Friday, October 26, 2007

Alan Johnston's Story; Finally

We've been wondering where the lad has been. He was freed on July 4. Almost 4 months have gone by with too much quiet. After all, as a BBC vet, here's easily up to 5 reports a day.

But he is making news out of it. His story was broadcast on Thursday, 25 October, 2007 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4 and Panorama broadcast Kidnapped - The Alan Johnston Story on Thursday, 25 October, 2007 at 2100 BST on BBC One.

Here are excerpts from his BBC blog:

But the experience of incarceration does have a way of lingering, of haunting the nights. I dream sometimes that I am in captivity again, and I cannot tell you how good it is to wake and gradually realise that, actually, I am free. Safe, back at home, on the shores of Loch Goil. But the nightmares come less frequently now. And although psychologists might say that these are still quite early days, I very much believe that I am going to be fine.

And the kidnap's legacy is not all bad. With its locks and chains, its solitary confinement and moments of terror, it was a kind of dark education.

I lived through things which before I would have struggled to imagine and maybe, in the end, I will be stronger for that. I have gained too a deeper sense of the value of freedom.

Perhaps only if you have ever been some kind of prisoner, can you truly understand its worth. Even now, more than three months after I was freed, it can still seem faintly magical to do the simplest things, like walk down a street in the sunshine, or sit in a cafe with a newspaper.

And in my captivity in Gaza, I learnt again that oldest of lessons. That in life, all that really, really matters, are the people you love.

A saloon car had suddenly surged past mine, and then pulled up, forcing me to stop. A young man emerged from the passenger side and pointed a pistol at me.

I had reported many times on the kidnapping of foreigners in Gaza. Now, as I always feared it might, my turn had come. The figure with the pistol and another gunman forced me into their car, and as we sped off I was made to lie on the back seat.

In the claustrophobic, intense, violent, sliver of land that is Gaza, there was now a shadowy organisation that thought in terms of waging Jihad on the West

A hood had been shoved over my face, but through it I could see the sun flickering between the tower blocks. I could tell that we were heading south and east, towards the city's rougher neighbourhoods.

Most kidnappings in Gaza used to be carried out by disgruntled militant groups seeking the attention of the authorities in some minor dispute. And always the Westerner was freed within a week or so, shaken but unharmed. But the game had changed last summer.

A much more sinister group had emerged and seized two members of a team from the American Fox News network. They were freed, but only after making a video-taped denunciation of the West, and a public conversion to Islam. Of course this was serious.

I felt that Gaza's story was important.

It is at the centre of the Palestinian drama, which in turn lies at the heart of the rising tensions between the East and the West that have become the defining story of our time.

So, in consultation with senior colleagues, I decided that the risks were worth taking, and I stayed in Gaza.

And I did manage to keep out of the grasp of the kidnappers almost to the end. When the man with the pistol emerged from the white saloon, I had just 16 days left until I was due to leave for good.

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