In Trafalgar Square in London, dozens of journalists
representing every major news organization descended on a designated corner in
the tourist infested area in support of Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent
kidnapped in Gaza on March 12, 2007, one month after his ordeal began.
Awaiting the arrival of Alan�s family to a press conference,
organized by Reporters without Borders, I stood along with a few activists. My
nervous smiles, interrupted by brief statements to inquiring journalists, could
hardly hide my utter feelings of shame. It�s not often that I feel this way,
taking part in a solidarity event in support of anyone. This time was different,
however, despite all attempts to distance oneself from responsibility.
�Alan, they are not from amongst us,� read of the banners
held by hundreds of journalists gathering in Ramallah, in the West Bank, to
support Alan on the same day we gathered in London. The unfortunate fact is
that while the kidnappers were not exactly elected representatives of the
Palestinian people, mostly known for their unparalleled generosity, warmth and
kindness to strangers, they were exactly what that banner tried to refute:
there was a rational outcome of the state of chaos, corruption and overt
militarilism that has plagued Palestinian society for years. Indeed, they were
from amongst us, and there is now denial in that.
In times like these, reporters care little for details, all
they seek are a few sound bites, preceded by an intense introduction and a
snappy finish, and consequently a TV news report is made. I had to accommodate.
�These kidnappers don�t represent the Palestinian people, and I call on the
Palestinian government to do its outmost to free Alan, whose professional
reporting and unprecedented objectivity is a rarity in the age of polarized
media,� I told a Spanish newspaper.
Then Alan�s family arrived; they were the most unthreatening
and kind looking group of people one can ever encounter. Alan�s father, Graham,
an older version of his son, dressed in a dark suit, with a belly sticking out
slightly, and a voice so proud, yet somehow broken. �Chin up, my son,� he told
Alan, hoping that the message would reach him somehow. Then to the kidnapers, �You
have family. Please think about what this is doing to my family, including in
particular the distress and deep concern Alan�s mother and sister have had to
endure for all these long weeks. As I have said before, please let my son go
A Palestinian, with links superior to mine in the Occupied
Territories leaned and whispered in my ear. �Why must these depraved
individuals (referring to the kidnapers) keep placing us in these tough spots?
What is even more bizarre about all of this is that everyone in Gaza knows who
the kidnappers are.�
Everyone in Gaza knows, I was told, including the
authorities, and even the BBC received some heads up. He named names,
elaborated on the demands of the kidnappers, who belong to a powerful clan,
affiliated with some people in Fatah, the once leading Palestinian resistance
movement which has slowly evolved into a most impressive network of
power-hungry individuals, factions, sub-factions, clans and so forth, a great
source of national fragmentation and political discord. It turned out that
other people at the press event had similar information. The kidnappers are
apparently asking for five million US dollars and loads of ammunition. My
friend believes that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas must agree to the
demands, to keep the rogue elements in his party in line; clan wars in Gaza
tend to be politically taxing.
As journalists petered out, following Alan�s parents
departure, and as Trafalgar Square returned to its cheerful self, there was
nothing left but the large poster carrying Alan�s photo, which was unfurled
earlier that day and scores of doves reclaiming their space in centre stage.
How did we end up where we are? I asked myself as I too left
the square and Alan behind. How could our struggle for freedom, for justice and
for rights be so utterly reduced to an active state of civil war, factional
clashes and constant cries for aid, and how could our narrative, our entire
narrative be so effortlessly hijacked, and now dictated by mere gangsters,
vying for power and money?
Alan�s ordeal has lasted longer than other journalists and
aid workers kidnapped in Gaza since chaos ensued in the Strip nearly two years
ago, but most notably following the Hamas victory in January 2006. Israel
ensured that it left formidable allies in the area who acted on a whim to
ensure that Israel�s narrative prevails, even after its �withdrawal� from the
devastatingly poor Strip. And so the narrative goes, Palestinians are not
capable of governing themselves, thus, in hindsight, four decades of Israeli
occupation is justified and Israel�s current illegal military occupation of the
West Bank and East Jerusalem is vindicated. Those allies held true to their
purpose, and had since then wreaked havoc.
The advent of Hamas, a well regarded and anti-corruption
group changed nothing; it in fact precipitated the political fragmentation that
defined the Palestinian struggle since the Oslo accords in 1993, and even
before. Israel�s active military onslaughts, since then, killing hundreds, and
the US political and economic embargos weakened the Palestinian front like
never before. But the truth must be told: political cohesion was hardly a
quality that Palestinians had ever enjoyed. They were too vulnerable, too
receptive to pressure, which made their various leaderships, especially the
pro-Israel camp -- as galling as this term may sound -- as flexible as clay,
shaped by skilled Israeli hands and positioned wherever found fit.
But how can we claim that they are not from amongst us? How
can we claim that they don�t represent us if we lack the political will to
confront them? And when Alan is freed, as he must be, who will free us,
Palestinians, from this destructive path on which we tread?
Trafalgar Square is so distant, teeming yet so lonesome, but
Alan�s friendly face continues to spur a sense of hope.Ramzy Baroud�s latest book, The
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People�s
Struggle (PlutoPress, London) is now available in the US
from Amazon.com. He is a veteran journalist and a human rights
advocate at a London-based NGO; he is the editor of PalestineChronicle.com; his website