Proof that Diplomacy Works: Hamas Able to Free Alan Johnston
by Manila Ryce
Published Wednesday, July 4th, 2007, 3:23 am
Contrary to American and Israeli policy, Hamas has proven that talking to terrorists can actually achieve much more positive results than going in with guns blazing. BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who’s been held hostage by the Army of Islam in occupied Gaza since March, was finally released today. After nearly four months of captivity, Johnston looked frail, but was in good spirits. His release was made possible by lengthy talks and pressure put on the group by Hamas.
Johnston told the BBC that the experience was “at times quite terrifying” as he did not know when it was going to end. Speaking from the home of Ismail Haniya, the disbanded unity government Prime Minister and leader of Hamas who was exiled to Gaza following the Fatah coup, Johnston likened his ordeal to being “buried alive”. He said, “I dreamt many times of being free and always woke up back in that room… It’s an amazing thing to be free.”
Still, Alan Johnston’s situation could have been a lot worse. His captors, declaring themselves to be the Army of Islam, demanded the release of terror suspects held prisoner without charges by Britain and other states. Hamas officials, wanting to show that they could impose order in Gaza, threatened to free Alan by force if the Army of Islam did not release him. In response, the group released a video of Johnston wearing a suicide vest with the warning that he would die if the threat became reality.
Rather than follow the American, European, or Israeli strategy of dealing with terrorists, by either ignoring the group outright or going in with guns blazing, Hamas exchanged prisoners through negotiations and increased the pressure with a strong military presence around the stronghold of the group.
Johnston’s parents said they were relieved to hear their son was freed. “We’ve seen him on the box, and it’s just incredible. It’s been a long 114 days,” said Graham Johnston, Alan’s father. Alan Johnston himself says that listening to the support of people on the radio during his time as a hostage gave him a great psychological boost. British diplomats and senior BBC officials arrived in Gaza to take Johnston back home. Meanwhile, nearly 400 people continue to be held in Guantanamo, some for over 5 years.