Rachelle Marchall (1913 Family Photo)
Readers of the Washington Report will be sad to learn of the passing May 29 of Rachelle Marshall, whose incisive and knowledgeable articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict graced these pages for some 25 years. Her death occurred just shy of her 90th birthday, and her commitment to the cause of justice for the Palestinian people was evident to the very end.
Those who knew Rachi, as she was affectionately called by family and friends, knew her to have a brilliant mind and a passionate, feisty and caring way of being in the world. Her life was deeply rooted in the cause of social justice. She and her husband, Hugh, who at 97 died this past December, were extremely active in the civil rights movement and in opposing the war in Vietnam. Prior to that, in the 1940s the two worked with poor people in West Virginia around housing issues.
Like most Jews of her generation, Rachi was indelibly marked by the Holocaust that sensitized her to the suffering of her own people.
Eventually, however, as she explained in her Seeing the Light essay for Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, after an intensive period of study and meeting with Palestinians, Rachi came to understand the suffering and injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people at the hands of Israel, and she became a fierce, committed and deeply informed critic of Israel. This evolution in her thinking caused many friends and relatives to express anger at what she was doing. This was a difficult time for her, but she stood her ground and did not waiver.
Rachi loved learning and had a vast interest in and knowledge of both political and cultural issues, and one could always learn something of interest in spending time with her.
She was a prolific and talented writer, and her articles on a variety of political topics appeared in such venues such as The Progressive, Foreign Policy in Focus, and Truthout. She also had an uncanny ability to get her insightful letters published in The New York Times as well as her local paper. A good example of her sophisticated and nuanced thinking appears in an article in Foreign Policy in Focus, where she wrote that Americans fail to understand the visceral way Russia views NATO and the European Union as an existential threat. She went on to say, “Even more disturbing is the fact that so few policy makers observe the cardinal rule of effective diplomacy: that when dealing with a perceived adversary, negotiators should be acutely aware of the other side’s concerns, especially when it comes to security.”
In another article in Foreign Policy in Focus, she wrote that modern warfare invariably involves the indiscriminate killing of human beings who bear no responsibility for its causes, and any attempt to distinguish between legitimate military actions that kill civilians (“collateral damage”) and tragic mistakes that kill civilians is a pointless exercise. She believed that atrocities are an integral part of war and that all wars must be considered war crimes.
While highly critical of Hillary Clinton’s obsequious, unconditional support of Israel and her proclivity to foreign intervention and war, Rachi was deeply frightened and disturbed by the election of Donald Trump, because she saw to the core of his racist, authoritarian personality, which reminded her so much of how fascism came to power in Germany.
Rachi spent the last several years of her life living with her husband in a retirement home in Mill Valley, California, where she was active with Mill Valley Seniors for Peace. She was also a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She is survived by her son, Jonathan and daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.
Rachi lived her life with courage and integrity and was an inspiration for me and many others. I for one will miss her greatly, and feel grateful to have known her and worked with her for the cause of Palestinian justice that is so dear to us both.