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February 28, 2013

One day, in Berkeley 1971, word got around that a recruiter from Weatherman was in town. It was known, in my circle, who to contact if we wanted to be put in touch with him. My friend Bill and I took a corner table at a little coffee shop and spent some long hours considering locating the Weatherman. 

The Weathermen were bombing army recruitment centers and other places, but they were careful about not hurting people. A childhood neighbor, Kathy Boudin, was with Weather-underground after barely escaping with her life when a bomb factory in GreewichVillage had blown up.

 Bill liked to float the cream across his coffee, to see how long the surface tension would hold out before allowing the cream to sink and drown in the coffee. In the air the entire night was our freedom, the choice we were facing. One moment we were bourgeois comfortable university students and part-time peace activists, and the next we could give up our comfort, go underground, and walk our talk.

We didn’t go underground, we went back to our commune and went to sleep, despite the coffee and the critical moment we’d allowed to pass, still gnawing at us. That’s the quintessential bourgeois piece, the gnawing guilt, used to replace taking action.

We took smaller, above-ground action, organizing and participating in anti-war demos, 3 AM forays to spray-paint buildings and bridges, and once smashing the plate glass windows of the strike-breaking Safeway supermarket. I can still hear Bill’s squeals of gleeful laughter as we high-tailed it back to his VW bus. But in the air lingered the shame and guilt of clinging to our relatively safe way of life.

To our relief, three weeks later, the Weathermen issued one of their regular missives to the above-ground movement, through a local Berkeley newspaper. This time, they acknowledged their mistake in relating to us activists. They said they knew they had been high-handed and judgmental about anyone who wasn’t willing to go underground and join the “serious” struggle. Now they wanted us to know that they understood their error: They had to be doing what they were doing, but the lion’s share of the work would be done by us, above-ground. Whew! Reprieved…

What remained, and remains to this evening, 42 years later, is the knowledge that I might have joined the Weathermen that night, and that I might have become a bomber, I might have become a bomber who believed in what he did.

In ten days, I will re-connect with Pat Magee, the Brighton Bomber.We met at a conference in Turkey six years ago. He spoke of his career as an IRA operative, of his role in placing the bomb that killed five people at the Grand Hotel in ’84. We walked together into the little Turkish port and enjoyed an evening. With a humble eloquence, he shared his sorrow over the pain and suffering he had caused. Yet he never renounced what he did to resist the British. Pat today travels with his colleague, Jo Berry. Jo is the daughter of MK Anthony Berry, whom Pat killed in Brighton. Together, they speak as perpetrator and victim, around the world. Their mutual empathy is palpable.

 I had corresponded with Jo to see if I could bring them to Israel/Palestine. I couldn’t find the money to do it, and thought it was lost. A week ago Pat and Jo notified me that they were coming here. Within days we had arranged that they will be our guests at the Sulha Project tribal fire in ten days, at Neve Shalom, the Jewish/Arab village in the Jerusalem foothills.

I am excited to have them coming, since I believe that looking at victim/perpetrator through their eyes may enable some deeper opening among us, we the perpetrators and victims in this troubled land. We will look at shame and guilt, and accept that we could have been bombers. We will acknowledge the price we have all paid as victims, some more, some less. We will join hands around the fire and we will sing into the night.


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One Comment
  1. This is a fabulous post, Yoav. Wish I could be there around the fire.

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