By Khaled Diab
There is just over a day to go before my great voyage into the well-known yet enigmatic begins! Needless to say, I am incredibly excited about my trip - I'm sure it's going to be intense every step of the way. Climbing down from the ivory tower of political observation and punditry to walk among the flesh-and-blood realities.
For me, this trip is special in oh so many ways. This is the first time in my life that I will travel through a land that has so much personal resonance for me. Its political, psychological and emotional significance is immense and its intractable conflict played a big part in shaping my political consciousness.
For Jews around the world, Israel has a special place in their heart. For Arabs, Palestine has a similarly symbolic status - being the first and longest-lasting shattering of the Arab dream of independence. For me, growing up in a politicised and intellectual household meant that the Palestinian cause and the sorry state of the Arab world was branded into my consciousness from a young age. I can recall all the passionate debates that occurred from my earliest childhood between my parents and the intellectuals of the Arab diaspora in London - and the special status the Palestinians enjoyed in these circles.
After 11 September 2001, the whole Western world said "We are all Americans now!" After the mass displacement of the Palestinians in 1948 and then 1967, the Arabs expressed a similar sentiment.
The plight of the long-suffering Palestinians touches most Arabs deeply not only because of the obvious desperateness of their situation, but also because of how much it resonates with the situation closer to home. The high hopes once attached to Arab independence and pan-Arabism have soured, and the oft-corrupt political leadership in many countries can sometimes feel to the average citizen as foreign or contrary to their interests as the Israeli occupation.
Let your feelings show
I have to say that the last couple of weeks since I booked my ticket have been intense, and my day job writing about the intricacies of EU policy has seemed that much less exciting in the last days! On the outside, I still appear the same cool, level-headed sort of guy I usually am(in fact, more so, in my effort to keep it all in check). Inside, there are tumultous waves washing through my soul. The excitement has kept my mind buzzing and my brain whirring like a maniac. Actually, there is a general state of high alert at home, with my dedicated, overworked and underpaid Katleen putting in 15-16-hour days in a race against the clock to produce her second report on the global impact of cluster munitions (not the most fun subject). And she'll be in Geneva discussing landmines while I negotiate a veritable political minefield. In fact, I already feel emotionally drained (not to mention surprisingly fresh and alert) and I haven't even got on the plane yet!!
After so many years as a journalist, I have become quite accustomed to putting my personal feeling in the back seat, taking a step back and looking at things from multiple perspectives. Many of the articles I have produced about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been impersonal political analyses. In my other writings about the conflict, I have tried to be as even-handed as possible and to empathise with both sides.
But I am glad that, given the personal importance of this trip, I am not covering this it in my previous incarnation as a wire journalist, and the linguistic, emotional and political shackles that would've imposed on me. Some friends who are still walking the high wire of news agency work regularly complain to me about the impersonalness of it all! But I want to get up close and personal: meet real Israelis and Palestinians; see how things look from where they are standing.
I'm glad that I'm financing this trip myself so that I need not follow anyone's agenda but my own. I'm also pleased that I've set up this blog which will allow me to reflect at some length - annoying as it may be to the reader - on my voyage to discover that most known of unknown lands and the most familiar strangers in the world to me.