Here's his most recent column. The quandary this time is whether to send 100 demonstrators to Gaza, as the Egyptians have allowed, or not.
Over the last week, as the international marchers arrived in Egypt, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry made it very clear that it did not want them going into Gaza, and it would arrest them short of that goal. But these 1400 are not tourists or milquetoasts, they are activists; and they were not going to be stopped by any old Ministry, even the ministry of a police state.Awesome. Then the Epyptian said some could go, but most not.
Over the next 4 hours I witnessed agony and torment, and said a secret blessing that I had not tried to get on the buses last night. A crowd of those opposed to the 100 stood outside barricades set up around the buses and shouted "All or none!" and "Get off the Bus!" It turned out that they had many confederates among the 100 who boarded the buses– confederates who at a signal marched off the buses, some giving heroic speeches.
The people staying on the buses leaned out the doors to say that the Gazans wanted them to come so as to to join their march to the Israeli border on the 31st. But they wavered. Indeed, you saw some of the most resolute activists on the planet—Bernardine Dohrn, the law professor and former member of the Weather Underground; Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada; and Donna Mulhearn, an Australian woman who was a human shield during the beginning of he Iraq war, board the bus and get it off it, and then board it again and get off it, and on and on.
Weathermen, huh? Maybe these demonstrators are a wee bit more sinister than they let on. Here, I thought they were thoughtful people who've been carefully weighing the facts and trying to do the right thing in a complicated situation, while unfortunately reading too many counter-factual reports and so getting into the wrong positions.
Abunimah, who had been roughed up by security at the American Embassy yesterday, told me it was the hardest decision he’d ever had to make. It was an individual decision, he had no clarity on it, and no one could tell you what to do, and he respected the decisions of all parties. Mulhearn said that going to Iraq in 2003 had been easy compared to this; for that choice was in the face of physical danger and she would take that any day, this was in the face of moral doubt.
Moral doubt, yeah, that's hard. Fortunately most of us manage to get through life without much of it, and even then rarely on the level of actually getting on a bus to demonstrate. That must have been tough.
Dohrn said that the principle of "All or none" was a miserable one for activist politics. You always took what you could get and kept fighting for more. A European man in a red keffiyeh screamed at her that she was serving the fascisti. Her partner Bill Ayers gently confronted him and asked him why he was so out of control. Between getting on and off the bus, Dohrn, who wore a flower in her hair, said that she didn’t like the absolutist certainty of the people on the other side of the police barricades, and having been in the Weather Underground, she knew something about absolutist feeling.
Yet I remind readers that good things are arising from this experience. The Americans, who are so conditioned to living with the Israel lobby, as an abused wife to her battering husband, are being exposed to a more adamant politics—we are having a rendezvous with the Freedom Riders. For another thing, our direct actions and demonstrations seem to be awaking Egypt, a little, and getting a lot of publicity. Helen Schiff told me that the front page of an official government newspaper today said, "Mubarak to Netanyahu: Lift the siege and end the suffering of the Palestinian people." We gave him that line! she said. A longtime civil rights activist, Helen told me it’s "fabulous" what happened, we are achieving more in Cairo than we would if we had gotten into Gaza.
Freedom Riders. Now that's an admirable role model, we can certainly agree on that. Young citizens willing to be arrested, beaten up, and indeed to risk their lives in a very real way, so as to heal their society of its worst affliction. That's quite a mantle Phil's claiming, isn't it. And note also that the demonstrators have been handing Mubarak his lines! (But not enough to have him let them travel to Gaza).
So there’s a tumultuous and ascendant feeling here tonight, in the little hotels that we have to meet in to make our plans. I can feel the spirit of the Freedom Riders and of the abolitionists, who fought the limits on freedom of movement of black people for so long in my country. As for the divisions, and bitterness, I think they will go away. A European friend advised me tonight that those who take the Palestinian side will find that they share somewhat in the Palestinian experience. They will experience isolation, division, bitterness, failure, contempt, manipulation. Surely not on the scale of the Palestinians; still, they will experience some of those things, and they will grow from them.
Freedom Riders move over, it's the abolitionists now. Of course, these brave folks will of course be called upon to endure great suffering in the little hotel rooms they've got to meet in, but that's how it is with the movers and shakers of history and justice.
There's something almost endearing, in a wistful sort of way, about the way Phil Weiss (and his readers) seek the confirmation of historical greatness. No, he's not Martin Luther King, of course (who is? Khaled Meshaal perhaps?). Yet if he can be a foot-soldier and chronicler of the Movement, that will satisfy him. As long as his grandchildren or theirs look back at him someday with awe for his far-sightedness and bravery.
Actually, I know the feeling, and that's what makes Phil Wiess so weird. He could easily join us.