On March 16, 2003, a bulldozer powered by the Israeli Defense Forces on the Gaza Strip lowered its blades and rumbled into motion -- and a young American protester named Rachel Corrie was crushed to death.
Four years later, the ground still has yet to settle back into place.
At least, that's true metaphorically, if not literally. Consider the reaction when the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, W.Va., announced that one of four productions for its 2007 season would be My Name Is Rachel Corrie, a one-actor play based on the tragedy.
Within 48 hours of the announcement last December, H. Alan Young, a retired attorney and festival director, and his wife withdrew their pledge of $100,000 for the festival's building campaign, Ed Herendeen, the festival's artistic director says. Organizers anticipate that the programming decision will cost an additional $20,000 to $50,000 in lost box-office revenues.
Initially, the 27-member board was so split on the wisdom of mounting such a divisive show that the festival hired a mediator. At the end of a session in mid-February, the board, with one dissent, decided to move forward with the production.
In the months that followed, Herendeen received more than 100 letters and e-mails, some many pages long. Many of his correspondents passionately opposed the play's inclusion in the four-week festival.
"This play was hijacked long before it ever got to me," Herendeen says. "It was co-opted by both sides and used for their own purposes. I think if people actually see the play, they'll be surprised it's controversial. It's really a small, lovely, personal story about one young woman's journey."
Corrie's death at age 23 caused an international furor, primarily because accounts of the circumstances leading up to her killing are diametrically opposed.
A report by the Israeli government concluded that the bulldozer was searching for underground tunnels used in terrorist attacks. The government argues that the driver's view was obstructed and he couldn't see Corrie. The activist died, the report concludes, when she fell from a mound of dirt created by the bulldozer, and the mammoth machine piled debris atop her body. The government calls the death an accident.
But members of the International Solidarity Movement, of which Corrie was a member, say they were in the area to prevent the destruction of a home owned by a Palestinian pharmacist. They claim that an armored bulldozer deliberately ran over the helpless young woman twice, and they call her death a murder.
Two of the most outspoken proponents of the murder claim, the actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner, excerpted Corrie's diaries and e-mails home and crafted them into a theatrical piece that expresses Rachel's sympathy for Palestinians and anger about the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip.
Surprisingly, My Name Is Rachel Corrie excited little controversy when it debuted in London in 2005. Its reception in the U.S., though, was far different.
A planned run at the New York Theatre Workshop was put on hold amid opposition from that city's large and influential Jewish community. The show finally opened off-Broadway in October at the 400-seat Minetta Lane Theatre, where it ran for two months.
Subsequent productions that had been scheduled for Toronto and Miami also were shelved after a barrage of complaints -- though My Name Is Rachel Corrie recently finished a successful run at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in Corrie's home state.
Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, plans to be in the Shepherdstown audience on the show's opening night.
"We think it's wonderful that the Shepherdstown group held firm and is doing the play," she says.
"I think the controversy has less to do with the play itself and more to do with the climate in this country about these issues. The play has become a lightning rod about all the strong feelings people have about what's happening in the Middle East and our country's role in it. But this is a discussion that needs to happen."
Cindy Corrie and her husband, Craig, estimate that they have attended more than two dozen performances in England and the U.S. Seeing the play is a way to remain close to their beloved daughter.
"From the time Rachel was a tiny child, we enjoyed the gift of words that she had," Cindy Corrie says. "She was able to look at the world and to express what she perceived in a way that was very unique to her. She was an artist. So for us, to hear Rachel's words over and over again continues to be a gift."
But, as the Corries would be the first to acknowledge, no family has a monopoly on pain.
Some of the play's opponents in the Jewish community have lost loved ones in the death camps. Others have contended with acts of anti-Semitism.