The following report by Mondoweiss – I’ve spent much of the day with its founder Phil Weiss, reflecting on the significance of this massive global action for Palestine – explains the contradictory feelings many of us feel being here in Cairo and speaking out on the Middle East. These are moving times and many tears of joy and frustration are being shed:
The Egyptian authorities have told the organizers of the Gaza Freedom March once, twice, three times and four that we can’t go to Gaza, but the organizers will go back a fifth, sixth and seventh time, [Code Pink organiser] Medea Benjamin promised outside the U.N. offices in Cario here today. Still, it doesn’t look good for our year-end march. The chances are “less than zero,” says a friend.
Yet I have to say that the broken Gaza Freedom March has been a great achievement. How can that be, when we are going stir crazy in Cairo? Well an international conversation over the issue is taking place here among the most diverse collection of people. I keep thinking of ways to convey just how inspiring that is. One minute you are talking with a slim, proper Japanese man. Then a minute later an Egyptian youth is telling you that Gaza thanks you for your moral solidarity. Then a minute after that Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb is saying that she came here to march, and she will march. Borders have fallen away here, and the American frame is gone. On my plane I met a kid from Jersey who had done the free Jewish “birthright” trip a year ago and whose Jewish friends have been angered at his decision to come here, but when I saw him today, he seemed enthralled, transformed, way down the path of education, in a pink scarf.
He had been up most of the night, talking to the French. They are the most inspired delegation. 300 of them are camped on the sidewalk outside the French embassy, surrounded by what appear to be 600 Egyptian policemen in riot helmets and black uniforms. The French came here to get into Gaza, they are angry and have taken direct action. They are without water and toilets, and this will be their second night, that is if they are not taken away in the scores of paddywaggons set up across the road, in this police state. Many of them wear t-shirts that call for boycott and show a missile aimed at a baby carriage. “Reminds me a lot of the J Street conference, “Antony Loewenstein joked, after we got into the French camp for a ten minute police-supervised visit.
It was a good joke because it was about the limiting American frame. No one here is talking about the two-state solution or land swaps. They know what the Goldstone report says–those missiles aimed at houses with sleeping children–and they are morally clear on the question. They reflect an international consensus: the end of patience for war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and an ideology of Jewish exceptionalism supported by western governments. Those governments have failed to act so we are speaking out as civil society (Loewenstein again).
I sense something gelling here. We held a protest at the U.N. plaza here today, and Medea Benjamin called up the hunger strikers, eight or ten of them, and, flanked by young men from Syria, Egypt, and Libya, for once it did not matter that Hedy Epstein, the oldest of the strikers at 85, is a Holocaust survivor. In the U.S. that is her principal license to speak: the giant neon over her head, Hedy Epstein survivor. Here it means little; her ultimate status is, She is from St. Louis, USA. Decades ago the Palestinian leader George Antonius said that if he only took the issue to the court of world opinion, he would gain support against an injustice. Well it never happened. Yet now that support is forming, because global activists have embraced the cause, and yes, because the privileged European and American left has accepted the issue and are proud at last to be melding with Muslims and Arabs.
We didn’t do what the brave French did, and try to claim the UN plaza with sleeping bags and tents, but when we left we sang We Shall Overcome, mingling the American civil rights anthem with this international cause. Gaza will be free-ee-ee. No it doesn’t look like we will be getting into Gaza, still we are doing important work in Cairo, to transform ourselves and our presence on the world stage.