'Rachel Corrie' article shows the power of words

and Ron Timen

Oregon Stage Works' Artistic Director Peter Alzado should be complimented for producing "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" as part of a four-play series titled "Things We Do." He and his cast show that the Middle East conflict is nuanced and complicated and painful on all sides. They also demonstrate the tremendous power of words, and the enduring impact of presenting incomplete ideas as historical fact.

Unfortunately, Bill Varble's article on May 11 showed us how local this lesson can be. He writes that Alzado's 2007 effort to produce "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" was opposed by "the Jewish community," whereas in several Daily Tidings stories Alzado "insisted that criticism of his initial decision to put on the play didn't come from any one demographic group."

"It's not about free speech but whether or not it's a fair representation," Alzado said at the time. "If we're going to present something that is politically provocative, we need to make sure it is factual."

The article mistakenly repeats the potentially dangerous falsehoods of 2007, stating there was a "Jewish community" effort to squelch the play in spite of published denial by Rabbis Marc Sirinsky and David Zaslow in the Ashland Daily Tidings. They were so concerned with the false allegations that they responded by co-writing an opinion piece stating, "Representing much of the organized Jewish community in Southern Oregon and northern California, we want to make absolutely clear that we ascribe to the belief that a democratic society depends on free speech and access to a diversity of opinions and information."

So the article attributes the cancellation of this play to a "group" and ignores Alzado's reason for not producing it and Rabbis' comments? Why should we care?

Because the definition of racism or discrimination is attributing a negative action or characteristic of a few to an entire community, which can be the result of these types of careless statements.

Regarding the play itself, "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" has been widely denounced as an anti-Israel propaganda piece. Propaganda is a tool and can succeed in poisoning the public's mind if it repeats enough and the truth isn't told. For this reason it is important to clarify another statement in the Mail Tribune story: "The play is based on the experiences of a young American woman killed by Israeli Defense Forces as she took part in a nonviolent demonstration to obstruct an Israeli armored bulldozer that was demolishing Palestinian homes."

Press reports of a grenade being thrown during the event and the need for specialized driver protections against sniper fire show that "nonviolent" is a mischaracterization.

Because of this play's notoriety, perhaps a better description of what this play is based on would include the investigation's findings, which determined her death an accident occurring in a restricted, intense war zone. By the way, the bulldozer that day was actually destroying terrorist weapon-smuggling tunnels.

We'll never know for sure the intentions of the accused driver, but he was subjected to lie detector tests as a part of the investigation. The play's promoters seek to cast Rachel as a martyr while demonizing Israel for engaging in legitimate and necessary military actions required to defend her civilians against radical terrorist activities.

Americans fighting on the clustered streets of Iraqi cities understand the near impossible task of rooting out terrorists hiding behind civilians. Similarly, intentional murder of civilians is against Israeli law and IDF policy. The best evidence of this being true is a case where an Israeli soldier was sentenced to eight years for manslaughter for shooting another foreign activist. The case clearly indicates that Israeli justice, similar to U.S. military law, will place blame on soldiers if they act outside of rules.

Hopefully readers who read the article will now better understand the circumstances surrounding the play's original cancellation as well as Rachel Corrie's tragic death.

With neo-Nazis setting up camp in Phoenix, it's easy to eclipse the Mail Tribune article and focus instead on anti-Semitism in Holocaust-style terms. But the sad truth is that hatred of Israelis and anti-Semitism by some in our communities (or anti-anybody-ism), is sown and nurtured in the pernicious, subtle repetition of falsehoods and misunderstandings.

The problem with phrases in the above context, such as "The Jewish community" and "the IDF killed" is that they can lead to further misunderstanding, mistrust and misinformation. They bring an historical inaccuracy closer to becoming "truth." And if there's one thing that Oregon Stage Works' "Things We Do" teaches us, it's that words have immense power.

Gary Acheatel and his family live in Ashland. He is a financial adviser with Raymond James. He lived in Israel for six years and served in the IDF. Pastor Ron Timen is the spiritual leader of Rivergate Church in Ashland and a leading proponent of interfaith dialogue throughout the Rogue Valley.

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