More than seven years after American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by a massive D-9 bulldozer by a member of the Israeli military while peacefully protesting the demolishing of homes in Rafah, Palestine, her parents filed a civil suit seeking a single symbolic dollar in punitive damages.
Meanwhile, as the case, which was filed in March of this year and is nearing a conclusion, continues to captivate the international community, acclaimed director Simone Bitton's controversial documentary "Rachel," a comprehensive account of the events surrounding Corrie's March 16, 2003, death, continues to captivate audiences. The film made its debut U.S. theatrical run at Anthology Film Archives in New York City this week from October 8-14.
Bitton, the acclaimed Moroccan-born director and self-described "Arab Jew," who is a duel citizen of Israel and France and now lives in Paris, said that the goal of the film was to inspire additional dialogue about the urgent need to help the occupied Gaza Strip, which has been called a "prison camp" by British Prime Minister David Cameron and similar terms by other international leaders.
"I really wanted to make a film about Gaza and a story which will enable me to talk about Gaza," she said. "I sense that it was important to talk about the young people who came as peace activists, who come for missions of solidarity with the Palestinian population, the story is so important."
"Rachel" originally was screened at several prestigious film festivals in 2009 including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, the Berlin, Germany International Film Festival, where it debuted, and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where it was screened despite protests from members of the local community.
Many of Corrie's friends and fellow activists as well as members of the International Solidarity Movement, which carries out non-violent resistance operations in Palestine, speak during the film, recounting details of the events including their assertions that the operator of the bulldozer had a clear view of Corrie before it crushed her.
With key figures in the case reading passages from Corrie's letters, still photos and video footage of the event, and interviews and testimonies from witnesses including Israeli officials, Bitton leaves no stone unturned in her quest to get to the bottom of how and why the Olympia, Washington native Corrie was killed at the young age of 23, becoming a martyr to Palestinians and the millions around the world representing their cause.
"The challenge was to do an investigation because there are so many versions of the story and I believe that my film is the only real credible investigation," she said.
"It was very hard, everything was very hard, in the beginning, nobody wanted to really talk with me, not just the Israeli authorities but also Rachel's friends at the beginning didn't want so much to talk because they were fed up with the media, they said that what they said had been moderated.
"I convinced them but it was very hard and very long."
Bitton has 20 years of experience making films in the region, however, which helped her undertake the challenges of shooting such an emotionally charged documentary for those who were interviewed for the film.
Rachel is light on music, offering a minimalistic, gritty approach that showcases the harsh reality of life in Gaza where Corrie was killed along with the strong feelings of its subjects on the matters.
Among the standout scenes is an interview with an unnamed young ex-Israeli tank gunner who spoke on the condition of anonymity in the film.
“We had orders to shoot hourly just to scare them, (we shot) a house, a window, a water tank, we'd shoot houses for fun if a commander was laid back," he said, admitting that he had killed at least one woman and one child during his time patrolling in Gaza.
His testimony is just one part of the film that portrays the Israeli actions in the area as being reckless, although Bitton leaves it up to the viewers to decide whether or not the army was at fault for Corrie's death.
Bitton was personally impacted by an interview with Shami Cohen, a military policeman who was involved in the internal Israeli military investigation.
"He says on camera that they (essentially) didn't investigate anything, they never went to the place where she was killed, they didn't hear the Palestinian witnesses and so and so, this is very important that he himself says it."
Following the New York screenings, the film is expected to be released in other theaters across the U.S., although official plans are pending.
Bitton is hopeful that the film exposes a wider audience to the grim reality of life on the ground in Gaza while also bringing attention to the importance of the trial in Israel.
She believes the discourse on Gaza is changing in light of other recent events but has different thoughts about the trial.
"So many other peace activists have been killed including the nine on the (May) flotilla (to Gaza that was attacked by Israeli commandos), this is how people start to ask what is really going on, if all these people from around the world are risking their lives to help people there it says something," she said.
"I'm not expecting much from this trial but I'm happy it happened, it's very important after seven years that the family is seeking accountability," she said.
For more information on the film, which is a release by "Women Make Movies," a non-profit feminist media arts organization, visit http://www.wmm.com/filmcatalog/pages/c787.shtml.