From the depth of our hearts, I would like to say that we are really shocked and terribly sorry for what has been happening to you.
Three years ago, the first time I met you at the French Cultural Centre when you were covering an art activity, I realized that you were the journalist the Palestinian people are in need of.
The journalist who does not cover only bloodshed, violence and politics, but also knocks on all doors in Gaza: occupation, art, love, religion and all areas that show the entire world that we are human too.
Johnston, we do dislike those who write reports from inside their offices, or copy and paste from the Internet. We are really in a very dire need for people like you who dig in depth to collect the drops of truth.
We need people able and ready to spend a long time in Gaza to understand its people and the details of life here.
Johnston, we are in need of you, because you are not one of those who come to Gaza for a couple of hours or days to write a report while a taxi is waiting for them at Eretz checkpoint.
Hence, we are in need of you to be close to us and do what we used to: taste our warm food, enjoy the azure in the new coming spring after a “hot winter”, witness the unendurable suffering of mothers and the soft smiles of children, and smell the breeze of Gaza’s sea. I believe that such things come easy to you since you have become one of us.
Three years in Gaza. Your presence and quiet smile have become a part of the journalistic community. They have become a part of the Shawwa and Hosari building. Every time I use the building, I remember you dressed in blue, your smile and warm greetings, and I cannot stop the tears which slowly fall.
Alan Johnston, your accurate and polite words are still alive in our consciousness, and will be forever. And your steps in the alleys of Rafah, Beit Hanoun and Gaza are still felt.
I know that you are spending hard times with those who do not value their country but rather material gains.
As we have been living for decades under the ugly Israeli occupation and are thus well aware how bitter it is to be denied freedom, we believe that you have the right to live and move freely and safely.
Johnston, all citizens, including your friends in Gaza, including myself, pray to God for your safety and for your quick return to your family and to your homeland, simply because you are fellow human, a close friend, a dear colleague and a respected guest in Palestine, and because you are Alan Johnston.
Sami Abu Salem,
Sami Abu Salem lives in Jabalia Refugee Camp and works as an English news and features writer at the Palestine News Agency (WAFA). He has also worked at the International Press Center of the Palestinian Authority State Information Service, and works as a freelance writer for local newspapers, focusing on literature and arts. This letter has been edited for clarity.