BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza last month. It's generated some outrage from western journalists, but even more from those in Palestine. Reuters reporter Nidal al-Mughrabi discusses the Palestinian response to Johnston's abduction.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Four weeks ago, BBC correspondent Alan Johnston was kidnapped by masked gunmen in the Palestinian region of Gaza, where he'd been living and working for three years. Often journalists are placed, or place themselves, in danger, usually without much note, but Johnston's case is unusual. The loudest voices protesting his plight have not been those of the Western media but of local Palestinian reporters.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate organized a three-day strike this past week. On Tuesday, reporters declined to cover a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Representative Nancy Pelosi, and on Wednesday they blocked the entrance to the Parliament building, ending that day's legislative session. There was also a demonstration on Thursday.
Why has the kidnapping of this reporter generated so much outrage, and why now? We asked Nidal al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian reporter for Reuters, who helped organize the strike. NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: It has come to be like enough is enough. For Palestinian journalists, they have had enough of the attacks on the local journalists and the foreign journalists. So the kidnapping of Alan Johnston had to be met by a different response from the previous ones, which were limited to one protest or one rally.
We have decided to establish a committee to protect journalists in Gaza and the West Bank in support and solidarity with Alan Johnston and also in the demand for the Palestinian Authority to take action, because we believe that the recurrence of these kidnappings resulted from the fact that no kidnappers involved in the previous kidnappings were prone to justice. BROOKE GLADSTONE: After nearly a dozen journalists have been captured, released, their kidnappers have suffered no consequences; you're directing your anger at the Palestinian Authority. But do you think that the Palestinian Authority really has any power in a situation like this? NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: We have about 70,000 Palestinian security forces who are loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and Fateh, and we also have about 6,000 who are loyal to Hamas government as well. So we are not in need for more security forces. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Fair enough. But do these forces know exactly who it is has kidnapped, say, Alan Johnston? NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: We have reason to believe that they know because of the experience. And according to all human rights groups, in past cases, you know, the kidnappers were known to the Palestinian security forces. So I don't think that we are lacking the military power to put an end to this, but we are lacking the political wealth. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so you're trying to influence that political decision with demonstrations like the one you participated in on Thursday. What kind of impact do you think your demonstration had on the decision-makers? NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: I would say there will be a positive impact. For 20 days we have been trying to raise the public awareness. We have established a tent in the middle of Gaza City, decorated with posters of Alan. And we have been visited by hundreds and hundreds of people. And we have insisted that we will not leave the ground outside the office of President Abbas until he comes and speaks to us.
And he came and he spoke to us, and he hinted that him and the Prime Minster Hiniya from Hamas have laid down the final plan to get Alan Johnston released by all legitimate means, as he said. He declined to elaborate on what means he will take, but I have a feeling that the case, hopefully, is coming to an end. BROOKE GLADSTONE: We spoke to you earlier, and you sad that Palestinian journalists aren't just demonstrating for Alan Johnston, they're also demonstrating for themselves. NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: That is true. Many of our colleagues have been beaten up by either police or by Palestinian unknown government emissaries because of something that they have said in a television show or something they have written in a newspaper.
While we are demonstrating, you know, for Alan, we are also standing by ourselves. We are trying to say that we will no longer take these insults. We are also saying clearly that what will happen if the foreign journalists leave Gaza Strip and do not come at all? BROOKE GLADSTONE: And what does it mean for Gaza if Western journalists can't work there? NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: It means that Gaza will be forgotten. It means that this area may turn into another Somalia or may be classified as Iraq, for instance. And this is a disaster for the Gaza Strip people and it is a disaster for the economy. BROOKE GLADSTONE: We spoke earlier this week with an editor from Al-Quds, which is a major Arabic-language daily based in East Jerusalem, and he told us that they weren't participating in the strike this week because their readers expect them to report the news. Are you sympathetic to that position? NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: Not at all, not at all. When somebody violates the strike, I would say he violates his own rights. When somebody turns on the television, when he turns on the radio, when he opens the newspaper and he doesn't see any news coming from Gaza, he will wonder what is happening. And he will know the journalists are on strike because they are calling for their freedom. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Nidal, what about the argument that the journalist's first responsibility is to his or her readers or viewers, that their first job is to report the news? NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: Absolutely. But I would say how are you going to function when you know that there is no security? How are you going to be in the street when you know that one of your colleagues has been kidnapped? How are you going to work when you know that there is no immunity for you as a journalist?
If somebody attacks you, no problem; nobody cares. If somebody abducts you, nobody cares. Somebody has to scream. Somebody has to cry. Somebody has to shout. We have started our campaign for Alan Johnston, but Alan Johnston is the title or the, say, code name for our campaign. Our campaign is going to continue even after Alan Johnston is released, to protect our rights and to protect the journalists' freedoms, as well. BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Nidal, thank you very much.
NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI: You're welcome. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Nidal Al-Mughrabi is a Gaza-based reporter for Reuters.
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