At a public meeting in London on Wednesday 11 April, I was asked for my thoughts (as a former ITN and BBC Panorama correspondent) about Alan Johnston’s “disappearance” in Gaza. I said that I feared he could be dead, and that if he was, he might well have been shot in the head within minutes of being taken more than a month ago.
If Alan is dead, the truth about who killed him might be in accordance with the claim of the Tawhid al Jihad Brigades group that it was responsible; but it also might not be (repeat might notbe).
The group which claimed responsibility in a fax to news agencies on 17 April is an Al Qaeda franchise (driven by events in Iraq), and was unknown in the Palestinian territories; and what can be said for certain is that the Palestinians were the party with absolutely nothing to gain and much to lose from Alan’s permanent removal from the scene. And they had much to lose on two counts.
On Count One, Alan was not only the BBC’s man, he was the only permanent foreign correspondent in Gaza. He was, in short, the best and most informed provider of news about the Palestinian side of the story; a story which, in many of its details, is an embarrassment to Israel and those governments, most notably the Bush and Blair regimes, which support Israel’s efforts to break the will of the Palestinians to continue their struggle for an acceptable minimum of justice.
On Count Two, and if he has been murdered, Alan’s death, if it could be blamed on a Palestinian or a pro-Palestinian Arab and/or other Islamist group, would be a huge political setback for the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle and the present leadership of it. (The Al Qaeda franchise would not give a damn about harming the Palestinian cause).
There is a case for saying (repeat acase) that the party with most to gain from Alan Johnston’s permanent disappearance was Israel. It would not be the first time that Israeli agents had dressed as Arabs to make a hit.
If Alan Johnston is dead, it’s my hope that the BBC at executive management level will rise above its fear of offending Zionism too much and allow its reporters (Frank Gardner and Jeremy Bowen are second to none) to make a full, thorough and honest investigation.