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"Hostages R US" Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
April 9, 2007


JERUSALEM - Hostage-taking is a dirty business, but it pays very well financially and politically.  It has become the rage of the Middle East, from Afghanistan in the east to the Gaza Strip in the west and it could spread to the Arab states of North Africa and into the Western world.
 
Foreign correspondents, TV cameramen and still-photographers of non-Arab nationality who do not subscribe to the Islamic faith are the most lucrative prey.  The sums paid for their release never are revealed by their respective media, nor are the concessions or commitments presumably made by their employers with regard to the slant their coverage will take once their personnel regain their freedom, but these evidently have been substantial.

According to an eye-opening account that appeared recently in the Israeli daily Maariv, journalists scooped up like bowling pins off the teeming streets of Gaza can fetch up to $2 million each.  The author, Yuval Hyman, writes that bundling defenseless media personnel into waiting getaway cars is "the Gaza Strip's hottest economic branch."  He believes this now is the specialty of local clans, naming "the Durmoush family" as the
frontrunner.
 
Hyman quotes a Palestinian colleague, Abd al-Askar, a Gaza Strip free lancer, as saying the seizure of foreign journalists and their prolonged detention as hostages is bad for the Palestinian cause.  "The more foreign journalists there are in Gaza the better and more accurate the delivery of our story is," Al-Askar reportedly said.  But that does not concern the hostage takers. 
 
The list of correspondents and photographers held for ransom or political concessions gets longer as the regional instability persists.  It includes such luminaries as The New York Times' former Jerusalem bureau chief, James Bennet (who did not want any details about his abduction to be publicized, "because," he said," I want to go back to Gaza) and Fox TV's Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig (correspondent and cameraman respectively)
whose secretly-negotiated release elicited typically-favorable comments from them about the way their abductors treated them coupled with earnest appeals to their colleagues to keep covering the Palestinian scene.
 
With regard to the BBC's Alan Johnston, whose captivity entered its fifth week last Monday (April 9), Hyman says MI 5 agents and senior BBC officials have slipped quietly into Israel presumably en route to the Gaza Strip in a discreet effort to win his release.  (MI 5 is the British equivalent of the FBI.)  As in the case of Jeremy Levin, CNN's former Beirut bureau chief, who was taken away by Lebanese gunmen in Beirut 23 years ago and suddenly discovered that the chains that kept him next to a radiator day and night were unlocked, a dubious oversight that enabled him to escape barefoot into the snow and run to the nearest Syrian army position, the terms for their release may never be disclosed.
 
Now Israel is plagued by the saga of Cpl. Gil'ad Shalit, the soldier who was captured on Israeli territory last June after Palestinian gunmen, including Hamas operatives, tunneled under the cease fire line to his fortified outpost and whose freedom will cost up to 1,400 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons including men "with blood on their hands," as defined by Israeli officials, and top ranking leaders, such as Marwan Barghouti who masterminded
the second 'intifada' uprising that erupted in September, 2000, and was sentenced to five consecutive life terms.
 
No money is likely to change hands if the highly-publicized deal being brokered by Egyptian army officers is consummated.  Undoubtedly, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Israel's least popular head of government in its 59-year history, might be able to bask in the joy of seeing Cpl. Shalit reunited with his parents and siblings.  But Olmert might not be able to withstand or survive the public outrage, especially that of the influential and well-organized
relatives of Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism, at seeing their loved ones' killers benefit from the cold-blooded blackmail that hostage-taking inevitably spawns.
      
A few footnotes: Perhaps the blackmailers' field day would come to an end if the international news media boycotted the Palestinian story, left it uncovered and denied its advocates the free publicity it gets in the press and on the radio and TV. Perhaps the foreign correspondents and photographers should take a cue from their Palestinian colleagues who have been demonstrating against the Palestinian Authority and ignoring its activities until Alan Johnston is released.  Perhaps it is time for professional journalists to declare that their lives are not up for sale by blackmailers.
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