Palestinian students commemorate Rachel Corrie's activism. Palestinians regard the slain American as a heroine who sacrificed her life to raise awarenes of their plight [GALLO/GETTY]

An Arabic-language production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play based on the writings of a young American woman killed by an Israeli bulldozer, premiered in Haifa, Israel on Sunday.

Corrie's parents attended the performance, which took place on the fifth anniversary of her death.

"I can't think of any more appropriate place to be... than with all of you. Even when we are back in the United States, our hearts are always very much here," Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, told the audience.

Her 23-year-old daughter, originally from Olympia, Washington, was killed in Rafah, Gaza, in March 2003 while trying to prevent a house demolition during a period of heightened violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Eyewitnesses report that she was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer, but a government investigation later cleared the army, which said it was operating in a security zone close to the Egyptian border.

According to United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 2,370 houses were destroyed by the Israeli army in Gaza between September 2000 – the start of the second intifada - and September 2004. 

Rachel in Arabic

Last night's production, by Haifa's al-Midan theatre company, was an adaptation of the British original, a one-woman play based on the evocative emails and diary entries kept by Corrie before and during her time in Gaza.

"It is a blessing to have the opportunity to act such a beautiful mind, spirit, soul and heart," said Lana Zreik, the Arab-Israeli actor who received a standing ovation for her portrayal of Corrie.

Several audience members, including Corrie's mother, said it was "especially resonant" to hear her daughter's words spoken by a Palestinian woman.

Al-Midan's Arabic-production contained slight variations of the original. "Our audiences know what happened in Gaza, they know about the things that Rachel describes," said Riad Masarwi, who directed and translated the play with Zreik.

"Because of that, my direction was to find out what was in the head of Rachel, the heart of Rachel... to look at the question, what makes a 23-year-old woman leave Olympia, America and come to Palestine. Why?"   

Fiery reception

Colleagues hold Corrie's body after she was
killed by an Israeli bulldozer [GALLO/GETTY]
The play has already appeared in several countries, including the US, Canada, Peru, Sweden and Greece, and sparked all kinds of reactions. 

When it premiered in London in 2005, one critic described it as "a stunning account of one woman's passionate response to a particular situation," while another observed that some scenes contained elements of "unvarnished propaganda".    

Last night's audience was almost entirely Arab-Israeli – the majority of Jewish Israelis do not know Arabic and the Hebrew-language media did not comment on the event.

Some hope that Hebrew subtitles will be featured as the play tours mixed-population cities like Jerusalem and Jaffa later this month, before it stages in the West Bank.  

"We don’t live in Gaza, but we see all these difficult things about it on the news," said Ferial Khaschiboun, from Haifa, who attended the play's Arabic-language premiere. 

"Now we saw a foreign woman talking about our country in this way, with this emotion. It was fantastic –and it broke my heart." 

'Something very moving'

If a Palestinian were to tell the same story it might be routine, but Rachel’s thoughts and words convey something different, something very moving

Mohammad Zeidan, an audience member from the Arab village of Arara in northern Israel, said, "I have seen Rachel alive tonight, that’s how it felt."

"If a Palestinian were to tell the same story it might be routine, but Rachel's thoughts and words convey something different, something very moving." 

That, said Rachel’s mother, is precisely the purpose of the play.

"It is so easy for people to detach from Gaza, from the horror of it, completely," she said. "I feel like that's what Rachel left me to do, to keep people coming back to what is happening there."   

The Nasrallah family in Rafah, Gaza, whose home Corrie had been trying to protect when she was killed, wanted to attend the performance in Haifa but were refused permits to enter Israel. 

Rachel's father, Craig Corrie, implored the audience to rally for change.

"We need to work together to make those walls come down, the walls around our hearts and the prison that kept our friends from coming here tonight."

Source: Al Jazeera