Rosalind Robson reviews Death of an Idealist, 21 June, Channel Four
An American girl of 8 or a little older delivers a speech to her school. An all-American girl. A middle class girl with an open freckled face. She is wearing a hand knit jumper with a Christmas motif (a present from an elderly relative?). She wants to help the world's children who are starving. This image is what we see at the beginning of Death of an Idealist - it is an old black and white home movie.
Show us the girl at 8 and we can see the woman. The little girl grew up to be Rachel Corrie the woman. And that woman, when she was just 23, went to Gaza to be a "human shield" against the tanks and bulldozers of the Israeli Defence Force. A few months later she was run down and killed by one of those bulldozers
This programme explores the experiences that led Rachel to Gaza, interviewing her parents, sister and friends from Olympia, Washington, where she grew up. Her parents travel to Gaza to meet Rachel's Palestinian friends and fellow peace activists.
One of the most important experiences in Rachel's life was 9/11. In the wake of those terrible events, life in her pleasant US town began to seem to be privileged and insular. She and her friends began asking questions. Most of all they wondered "why does everyone hate the US?"
This is a question I have heard many times since 9/11. Someone wrote a book with the same title. I find the question odd and intriguing.
I suppose it's less easy to be so unaware of Britain's reputation in the world. It is a smaller place, closer to other countries, and it's had an IRA bombing campaign for many years. On the whole it is less easy to be comfortable with "Britain", the myths about this nation, (although of course British "patriots" don't find it hard!).
The after shocks of 9/11 led Rachel towards the peace movement and from there she joined the International Solidarity Movement.
But the ISM activist the programmers interview comes across as unsympathetic. She says at one point that Rachel's death led the people of Olympia to question what is happening in the Middle East. She implies, she may not have meant to, that Rachel's death may have been a good chance for the peace movement.
Still we learn virtually nothing about the ISM and what they really stand for and stand against. They organise non-violent direct action in Gaza. But why? They say they do not get involved in Palestinian politics. But is that true? They organise themselves into affinity groups ("cells" of activists). Why? And we see the ISM operating in Rafah as the Israeli forces bulldoze their way through houses.
These questions are very important to finding out why Rachel felt compelled to go to Gaza, when many people of similar views about the state of the world, including many socialist people, do not.
My feeling was at the end of the programme, that here was a woman searching for an ideal, in a violent, grotesquely unjust and often terrifying world. For her, living up to and living out an ideal was important. Whether that ideal actually can be found by standing in front of bulldozers in the Gaza Strip is another matter. But it is an incredibly courageous place to start looking.
Sadly Rachel never got to continue her political journey.