I was born in Egypt during one war with Israel, have vivid memories of another war with Israel and I was the first Egyptian to live and work in Israel for a Western news agency when I moved there from Cairo at the end of 1997 as a Reuters correspondent.
And here’s the best piece of advice on the Middle East you will get today.
Sit on the fence.
Strange coming from an opinion writer who makes a living out of taking positions? Yes. But it’s too easy to take sides in the Middle East conflict. Few other parts of the world inspire such passion or leave such little room for doubt. For many, choosing sides is just an afterthought to their birthright: If you’re an Arab, go join the Free Palestine demonstrations; and if you’re Jewish, go join the Save Israel marches.
Don’t forget, you can always throw God into the mix. Lay claim to your holy sites and you’ll have religiously sanctioned wrath to fuel your rage.
But what’s the point of choosing sides when both sides are losing? The real challenge when it comes to the Middle East is to sit on the fence and to understand that as with most chapters of this interminable conflict, civilians pay the most expensive price.
From that perch up there on the fence, keep your eyes firmly on Israeli and Palestinian civilians and ask about the responsibility of leaders to their people.
The civilians of Gaza are victims of both Hamas and Israel.
The former have been more concerned with firing ineffectual rockets at southern Israel where they targeted the very group of people they are now accusing Israel of hurting the most in Gaza — civilians.
Israel has launched a punishing bombardment and invasion of Gaza that will be used as the latest proof that it is the neighbourhood bully. Its actions are bound to turn Hamas into the very heroes they don’t deserve to be and possibly unleash a new wave of unconscionable suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
And all for what?
For those of us from the region, the easiest thing might be to follow our birthright to bias but the hardest thing is to scream “Enough” at a time when both sides seem bent on mutual destruction and when to criticize your side ensures accusations of being a sellout.
But I insist on staying on that fence and being a sellout for peace.
Stay on that fence with me and scream and yell for a ceasefire.