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At PEN festival, Patti Smith honors Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie

The PEN World Voices festival is taking place in New York this week, without the sponsorship of the Israeli government, for once; and Patti Smith honored Rachel Corrie last night there. Salon’s report, by Max Cea:

Patti Smith, who performed with her daughter Jesse Paris Smith, provided a useful metaphor in introducing her first song of the night, “Peaceable Kingdom.” The song, Smith said, was written in memory of Rachel Corrie, a young activist who was killed in a combat zone in the southern part of the Gaza Strip when she shielded a doctor’s home from being bulldozed.

Adalah-NY celebrates last night’s memorial:

Rachel Corrie was 23 in March 2003, when an Israeli bulldozer crushed her to death. An American from Washington state, she was serving with the International Solidarity Movement to protect Palestinian homes from demolition. The “combat zone” was a neighborhood of the occupied Gaza Strip close to the Egyptian border that Israel was demolishing during the second intifada because it alleged that arms were being smuggled in there. An Israeli investigation found that the killing was an accident, though Corrie and fellow activists had been resisting the demolitions for hours and she wore a bright orange jacket and held a megaphone. The Corrie family sued the Israeli government for wrongful death; that suit was dismissed.

PEN’s consciousness-raising last night reflects the high degree of awareness that now exists on the left about Palestine. A year ago 100 well-known writers, poets, publishers, and others in the the literary community called on PEN America to reject sponsorship from the Israeli government for the annual festival. Among them were Marilyn Hacker, Deborah Eisenberg, Russell Banks, Sarah Schulman, Susie Abulhawa, and Geoff Dyer. That pressure continued this year and PEN’s list of sponsors did not include Israel. PEN director Suzanne Nossel had a very respectful exchange with Adalah-NY and Jewish Voice for Peace in which she conceded nothing re the end of the Israeli government sponsorship, but she clearly knows these folks are speaking for her own base. Patti Smith’s performance reminds us: It is no longer possible to be PEP, progressive except Palestine, in these spaces.

You can read about Rachel Corrie here, including her posthumous publications.

Here are some of the lyrics to Patti Smith’s song:

Yesterday I saw you standing there With your hand against the pane
Looking out the window At the rain

And I wanted to tell you That your tears were not in vain
But I guess we both knew We’d never be the same
Never be the same

Why must we hide all these feelings inside?
Lions and lambs shall abide

Maybe one day we’ll be strong enough To build it back again
Build the peaceable kingdom Back again
Build it back again

Why must we hide all these feelings inside? Lions and lambs shall abide