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Controversial Rachel Corrie play to open in Jerusalem

A 2003 photo shows American activist Rachel Corrie speaking to a reporter in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza. (Lorenzo Scaraggi/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM – “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” a one-woman play based on the writings of the 23-year-old American pro-Palestinian protester who was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza, is set to open for the first time in Jerusalem next week. But the opening won’t come without some of the same controversy that has surrounded the play, and Corrie’s legacy since her 2003 death.

On Monday, Hebrew-language media reported Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor, David Hadari, was calling to halt funding for the theater where the play is being shown because "we should not be lending a hand to problematic plays that harm Jerusalem and the state of Israel in the name of art."

Calling Corrie “an Israel hater,” Hadari apparently urged the municipality not to continue with its $900,000 funding to the Khan Theater, where the play will be performed in Hebrew starting next week, the daily newspaper Haaretz reported.

On Tuesday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat appeared to contradict his deputy, saying, "the Municipality of Jerusalem does not censor content shown in any artistic performance and is proud to support freedom of expression and artistic independence of art and culture in Jerusalem." He confirmed that the city's finance committee would approve the Khan Theater's funding as planned.

“We expected to get this kind of response,” the local play’s director, Ari Remez, said Monday. “It’s a shame that this response is coming not from those who have seen the play but from those who think that putting on this play is anti-Israel or anti-Semitic.”

“In the theater we try to create a debate. Some of the ideas you agree with and others you might not agree with, but the goal is for people to come and listen,” said Remez, adding, “the play has more meaning in Hebrew and in front of an Israeli audience.”

The play has been shown previously in Israel, but only in Arabic.

“It’s a chance for people to rethink their lives and their actions,” said the director of the production, which is based on Corrie’s diaries and e-mails written in the days and weeks leading up to her death as she confronted an Israeli army bulldozer set to destroy a Palestinian home in Rafah, Gaza.

The play, which was edited by British actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katherine Viner, first opened in London in 2005. It received praise, but also criticism for what was seen as an anti-Israel bias. A year later, the play’s U.S. premier was marred by controversy as the off-Broadway theater originally set to host the performance backed out, claiming the content was too political. Later it opened at the Minetta Lane Theater.

In the Hebrew version, first performed in March at a theater festival in Jaffa, Remez said the show not only sold out, but also received positive reviews and an honorable mention.

“It was not only an audience of activists, although they were there. It was a really mixed audience and we received a good response from people of all political views,” he said.

Remez said that Sivan Kertzner, the Israeli actress who plays Corrie, had the original idea to confront Israeli audiences with the show and its message. “It was her idea to do it. When I asked her ‘Why do you want to do this?’ she said that ‘It was important for these things to be said to Israelis and that it was time for people here to listen to them.’”

Last summer, an Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that Corrie’s death was an unfortunate accident. Corrie’s family maintains she was killed intentionally, and has said it intends to appeal the court’s ruling.