On Self-Hate and Fence-Sitting
Mona Eltahawy

Hi, I`m Mona and I`m a self-hating Arab.

Surprised? Did you think it was an exclusively Jewish thing? I guess it must be a Semitic thing.

Why do we do it? Why do we insist on complicating things when it would be so much easier, as the bombs are falling and the rockets are flying, to just follow our birthright: Join the Free Palestine demonstrations if you`re Arab; 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.

Oh yeah - sitting on fences - forgot to mention that other character fault. I`m a woman of strong opinions who rarely sits on fences, literal or figurative. But when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict these days, the harder place to be is on that fence and - see above with self-hating - I never turn down the opportunity to take the harder option.

And so there we are, us fence-sitting, self-hating Arabs and Jews yelling at the demonstrators so sure of themselves and their side, determined to confuse them just a bit, make them think a bit more, and to remind them that there`s someone just a few miles away who holds views diametrically opposed to theirs and who has an equal right to life, an equal right to a safe and dignified life and an equal right to see their children grow up.

Self-hating, they scream at us! Self-critical, we yell back!

Sometimes the other-haters are quite humorous. A reader incensed at an op-ed I wrote taking a self-critical look at the Arab world`s obsession with Israel wrote to tell me I should run for the Illinois Senate seat left empty by Barack Obama`s victory in the U.S. presidential elections. `Even politicians don`t kiss ass that much,` wrote my critic.

I had to laugh at that one.

But it gets harder with every round in this interminable conflict. Talking of the new U.S. president - it would have been so much easier to pull an Obama and keep mum. He had it easy. There`s only one president at a time, he apparently shrugged, and pointed to the outgoing one for statements on Israel`s bombardment of Gaza. Talk about proving how wrong right-wing Republicans were when they `accused` him of being Arab during the presidential campaign. Do you think if he had one drop of Arab blood Obama would`ve kept quiet about this latest bloody chapter of the conflict? Ha!

There might be just one president at a time but there are millions of Arabs and Jews, and each and every one of us is an expert on this conflict, of course. But, oh how I wish a few more of us sat on that fence, introspectively and self-critically pondering what `our side` could do differently.

Last month, I wrote how blogs and social networking sites like Facebook were giving a voice to the voiceless in the Middle East. Well, if you build it, they will come as some film a few years ago claimed. I posted that self-critical op-ed on my Facebook page just two days after Israel`s bombardment of Gaza began and, yes, there were a few critics, but there were dozens and dozens of supporters. So many that they drove the Facebook comments section slightly kaput.

They weren`t just friends being polite. I have more than 3,000 `friends` on Facebook, the majority of whom I don`t know and will most likely never befriend in `real life.`

I monitored the number of friends I had, expecting them to fall. Instead, not only did dozens of strangers post messages of support, saying I had voiced sentiments they`d long held, but new strangers wrote with invitations of friendship.

And my piece wasn`t just self-critical but took all sides in the conflict to task. But that`s what those accusations of `self hate` do, tempting you to second guess and to question your intentions and your success at fence-sitting.

It`s actually more of a seesaw than a fence that us self-haters of the Middle East are sitting on. It`s more symbiotic than just sitting next to each other. If it wasn`t for the `self-hating` Jewish contingent, those of us on the Arab side couldn`t say what we say and vice versa. We need each other.

But with each new round in this conflict, our respective sides demand not only absolute lockstep with their ideas but that those on the other side march in step too.

When Israel started bombarding Gaza, the words of Israeli peace activists were held up for me to memorize and repeat. You see! That`s what you should be saying, I was told. And I bet my words were waved equally fervently in the face of those same Israeli peace activists, with the demand they stop criticizing `our side.`

I refuse to get off this fence, this seesaw, especially when the `air is full of stupidity` as a man from Algeria wrote to tell me in a message of support that he ended with `Keep fighting!`

What sweet words to hear especially at the end of a day that began with a message from a French-Israeli who signed off his message vowing, `We have to `fight` for a more intelligent and peaceful Middle East.`

Now that`s a fight I`d get off the fence for. Self-haters of the Middle East Unite!

Egyptian-born Mona Eltahawy is a columnist and lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. She is based in New York.