Monday, March 29, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

One-woman play celebrates life of political activist

One-woman play celebrates life of political activist

By Thea Ballard
Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, March 24, 2010
About a month shy of her 24th birthday in March 2003, activist and Evergreen State student Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza strip. Her controversial death may be what made her famous, but it is her life that is the subject of the one-woman play “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”

Showing this Friday at 8 p.m. in Rockefeller Hall 200, this production of “Rachel Corrie” is a traveling show, featuring actress Courtney Day Nassar. The Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics, a student organization, joined forces with local groups Middle East Crisis Response (MECR) and the Dutchess Peace Coalition to host the play.

The MECR, a group described on its website as “joined in support of human rights for Palestinians and an end to the U.S.’s aggressive policies in the Middle East,” has been working on staging a version of this play for some time. Wrote MECR member Paul Rehm in an emailed statement, “After returning from a visit to Israel/Palestine as members of a delegation from Every Church a Peace Church…my wife and I had the good fortune to see the play during its initial run in London and were deeply moved by it.”

He continued: “Along with other members of Middle East Crisis Response, we’ve been working for the day when people in the Hudson Valley might also be able to see this remarkable one-woman play and through it, to learn about Rachel Corrie,” wrote MECR member Paul Rehm in an e-mailed statement.

Written by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, the play uses Corrie’s own e-mails, letters and journal entries as sources of material. Given the nature of Corrie’s death, there is something inherently political about the play, but it nevertheless focuses more on Corrie as a human character. MECR member Fred Nagel feels that the focus on the apolitical is an important part of the play. “I think that art brings us to a level of understanding that facts on the ground cannot,” wrote Nagel in an e-mailed statement. “This Friday, we will experience the truths as Rachel Corrie saw them. And the play will help us celebrate what is best in the human experience.”

The play has prompted some controversy in its brief history. A cancelled 2006 run of the show at the New York Theater Workshop caused a stir, raising claims of censorship. There have even been some bumps along the way for this particular production. MECR’s initial attempts to find Albany-to-Hudson area theatre companies interested in performing the play were met with discouraging results: “Honest theatre can be hard for some to handle,” said Rehm.

Once the MECR discovered Courtney Day Nassar’s performance, the search for a venue led the group to Vassar, where they got in touch with the Grassroots Alliance.

Peter Satin ’10, of the Grassroots Alliance, recognized the potential for controversy, but didn’t believe that it would present a significant issue. “I do know that there are a lot of Israeli sympathizers on campus,” he said. “But we hosted something in a similar vein about Israeli military conscious objectors earlier this year, and that went really well.”

Addressing the political nature of the play, he continued, “I guess the structure of the show is not so much agenda’d as it is bringing to light human rights abuses in general—it’s not politically charged. Hopefully the student body will see through the politics involved to look at the greater message.”

Rehm has a distinct vision of what this “greater message” entails: “We live in a society that tends to put on a pedestal those among us who pick up a gun, turning to violence to protect or promote the things we believe in,” he wrote. “Rachel’s life embodied the spirit, the ideal, the belief that there is another way and that defending the lives or homes of others non-violently requires just as much courage and may also call for the ultimate sacrifice.”

Satin continued, “That Vassar students might hear—above the din of voices calling for violent answers in conflict situations—one young woman’s voice rising in support of non-violent responses and from her life know something of the strength those responses require, is worth the efforts of all who care about the justice that accompanies real peace.” 
He added, “I hope the student body can approach it with open minds, and I think it’s an important message that regardless of your political stance towards the Middle East, conflict can speak to anyone.”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" to be performed at Siena and Vassar

Posted on: Mar 15, 2010
Sponsored by: Palestinian Rights Committee
Date(s): Mar 27, 2010
Time: 08:00 pm
Description: "My Name is Rachel Corrie" to be performed at Siena and Vassar

On the 16th of March, seven years ago, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. Drawing on Rachel's journals, letters and e-mails, Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman created "My Name is Rachel Corrie," a one-woman play that paints a remarkable portrait of this extraordinary young woman.

TimeOut London called the play, "Funny, passionate, bristling with idealism and luminously intelligent."

Courtney Day Nassar, whose performance as Rachel was described by Sean O’Donnel of The New Olde Bank Theatre as "brilliant" and in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as "almost overwhelming," will star in both productions.

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" will be presented on the 27th of March, in the Beaudoin Theatre, Foy Hall at Siena College, 515 Loudon Road, Loudonville and on the 26th of March, in Rockefeller Hall at Vassar College, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie. Both performances begin at 8:00 PM. The Siena performance will be preceded by a panel discussion at 6:45 PM.
General Admission: $10. Students: free with ID

Tickets available at the door or to reserve tickets at Siena, phone the box office at 518-783-4242. For advance tickets at Vassar, phone 845-679-3299 or 518-966-5366.

The performance at Siena is sponsored by: The Palestinian Rights Committee, Upper Hudson Peace Action, American Jews for a Just Peace and the Creative Arts Department of Siena College.

The performance at Vassar is sponsored by: Middle East Crisis Response, the Dutchess Peace Coalition and the Vassar Grassroots Alliance for Alternative Politics.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I recall General Mc Crystal , upon recently taking over the macabre theater of invasion in Afghanistan, immediately informing us, that the cornerstone of his strategy would be his valiant, surgically precise vision of limiting civilian casualties to single digits. He was the cogent commandant par excellence, master of all selective destruction he surveyed.

It so happens that his strategy of surgically selective destruction hasn’t quite worked out at all, after dozens of civilians have been killed and family dwellings destroyed; so today he conveniently says that it is the fault of the special forces. It was the special forces who did it because…well, the good General says: “they were really not accountable to anyone”… Really General? So the cogent, strategic and benevolent General has decided that he will now begin to “reign in the special forces”.
And the NY Times once again proves consistent by having the audacity to print this and presenting it as a strategically progressive move, another outrageous propagandistic lie.
When in fact, with these words, Maj. Gen. Zahir Azimi, the chief spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense sums up the reality of accountability.
These special forces were not accountable to anyone in the country, but General McChrystal
There you have it. We know this was all carried out by careful destructive design! Where are the true patriots, those who care about our future, that of our children, that of the children of the world? And not afraid to question leaders and hold them accountable?

The article tells us that “civilian deaths have been cut 28%”; oh my! Are we supposed to jump up for joy? This is precisely the kind of statistical analysis one expects from a genocidal mentality, in which humans are depersonalized and their killers exalted for lowering the body count. Did we forget what Einstein said so well?
"War cannot be humanized. It can only be abolished."
Apparently we did FORGET!
I am outraged at the lack of anger by our people. Are people that naïve, that poorly informed? Where are the voices of patriotic dissent and justice?
There is no acceptable level of "civilian casualties," much as we are being conditioned to believe there is. And such deaths are not simply "regrettable," as every McChrystal apology suggests. They are, in fact, entirely avoidable.
But not when you have arrogant unaccountable leadership supported by a nation afraid to dissent and too timid to declare peace. Ciao!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Father's Unjust Incarceration - The Case of the Holy Land Five

By Noor Elashi

A decade before my father received a 65-year prison sentence, he handed me an unusual book, one that ultimately shifted the way I perceive the world. It was titled Magic Eye, and it contained pages of what seemed like simple multicolored patterns. But each page had a hidden gift, a sensational truth. By diverging your eyes, my father told me, you’ll see an unexpected image. It seemed to challenge everything I’d ever known. I stared at the flat, distorted artwork until it transformed into a faded silhouette and then a three-dimensional shape like a group of dolphins or a rose-filled heart. Years later, as I flip through the pages of my family’s narrative, I see images that are far less whimsical, and indeed, painful.

Last week, U.S. attorney Jim Jacks filed a motion asking the federal judge of the Holy Land Foundation case to transfer my father—Ghassan Elashi, the charity’s co-founder—and his colleagues to a prison that closely monitors its inmates. If transferred to either of these so-called “Communication Management Units” in Terre Haute, Indiana or Marion, Illinois, my father’s phone calls would be more limited than they are now, in Seagoville, Texas. His letters would be monitored, his visitation time would be reduced to four hours a month and his conversations would be restricted to English, which is his second language.

Perhaps this may seem like an illustration of an effective justice system at work. But if one diverges his or her eyes, the camouflaged truth will slowly unfold, until it comes into focus. I, for one, see a hazel-eyed girl with pale skin and soft dark curls losing her home uponIsrael’s creation in 1948. The young woman, now my paternal grandmother, often tells me about her banishment from Jaffa, a once vibrant Palestinian city known for its orange groves and turquoise beach. I also see a man who was expelled from his native Gaza City in 1967 and was not allowed to return. I grew up hearing stories from this man, my father, about the plight of Palestinians, whom he called “a voiceless population” suffering from occupation, starvation, demolished homes, uprooted trees, constrained movement and a devastated economy.

As I look deeper, I see the Holy Land Foundation rise to stardom in the eyes of human rights activists worldwide who had witnessed this charitable organization alleviate poverty in Occupied Palestine through bags of rice, boxes of medicine, conventional humanitarian aid. I see my family scrutinized throughout the 1990s due to agenda-driven reports linking my father to terrorism—reports written by individuals who saw the HLF’s strength as a threat, for they wanted Palestinians to remain weak and desolate. I see President Bush shutting down the Holy Land Foundation three months after Sept. 11, 2001, calling the action “another important step in the financial fight against terror.”

I see my father and his colleagues tried in 2007 and almost vindicated. I see him tried a second time and convicted in 2008, thereby receiving a life-long sentence. In both trials, prosecutors argued that the HLF gave money to Palestinian zakat (charity) committees that they claimed were controlled by Hamas, which the U.S. designated a terrorist organization in 1995. To prove this, prosecutors called to the stand an Israeli intelligence agent testifying under the pseudonym of Avi who claimed he could “smell Hamas.” The prosecutors intimidated the jury by showing them scenes of suicide bombings completely unaffiliated with the HLF, and they used guilt by association by linking my father and the other defendants to relatives who are members of Hamas. The defense attorneys’ argument was simple: The Holy Land Five gave charity to the same zakat committees to which the American government agency USAID (United States Agency for International Development) gave money. Furthermore, none of the zakat committees included in the HLF indictment were named on any of the U.S. Treasury Department’s lists of designated terrorist organizations.

Nationally respected human rights law professors such as David Cole have associated the Holy Land case with McCarthyism, and other experts have called it a miscarriage of justice. The book that my father gave me had this subtitle: A New Way of Looking at the World. If one looks at our world with a fresh pair of eyes, he or she will see that Jim Jacks’ request for harsher prison conditions is unnecessarily cruel, and that supporting the appeal process is the only way to achieve justice. He or she will also see that the Holy Land Five arepolitical prisoners, and that we live in a twisted time, a time when humanitarians are pursued relentlessly for political purposes.

Noor Elashi is a Palestinian-American and writer based in New York City.