Exactly 9 years ago from today, on January 13th, 2004, Tom Hurndall succumbed to his injuries from a gunshot wound to the head which was inflicted by an Israeli Defense Forces Sniper.
Thomas “Tom” Hurndall was a British photography student, a volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and an activist against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
In December 2002 Kenneth O’Keefe, an ex-US Marine and Gulf War veteran, posted a call to action for large numbers of western citizens to migrate to Iraq and deploy themselves as “Human Shields”. The Human shield action to Iraq was a group of people who traveled to Iraq to act as human shields with the purpose of preventing the U.S.-led coalition troops from bombing certain locations during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.
At the age of 21 Tom Hurndall took a break from his degree course in photojournalism and joined the human shields in Iraq before the start of the 2003 Iraq war.
The volunteers eventually ran out of money and the start of a war became inevitable. Tom then moved to Jordan and donated £500 to medical supplies for refugees from Iraq. It was in Jordan that Tom encountered the International Solidarity Movement and decided to make a visit to Palestine.
He arrived in the town of Rafah on April 6th, 2004 and began emailing images of the IDF and the Palestinians back to his family. In his Guardian obituary it says “the tone of his journals changed dramatically” with his arrival in Palestine.
Tom even wrote of the death of Rachel Corrie, who had been crushed to death by an Israeli defence force bulldozer while acting as a human shield near the Rafah refugee camp.
“I wonder how few or many people heard it on the news and just counted it as another death, just another number … ” wrote Tom.
In April 2003, the IDF were on a mission in the Gaza border town of Rafah. Hurndall and a group of activists were in the area with the intention of setting up a peace tent on one of the nearby roads to block the IDF tank patrols, it was then that Israeli Soldiers began shooting. Everyone ran for safety, however, Tom’s father told a British inquest that, according to ISM and Palestinian witnesses, Tom had seen a group of children playing and had noticed that bullets were hitting the ground between them. Several children had run away but some were “paralysed with fear” and Hurndall went to help them. Hurndall’s father told the inquest: “Tom went to take one girl out of the line of fire, which he did successfully, but when he went back, as he knelt down [to collect another], he was shot.
At the time of the shooting Tom was in plain view of the sniper towers and was wearing a bright orange fluorescent jacket with reflective stripes and was clearly unarmed. According to other ISM activists “there was no shooting or resistance coming from the Palestinian side at all.” It is also reported that an ambulance came very quickly, about 2 minutes after the shooting.
Hurndall’s parents demanded an investigation of their son’s death and in October 2003 Israel’s Judge Advocate General, Menachem Finkelstein, ordered the IDF to open a further military police investigation into Hurndall’s death.
Israeli soldier, 20 year old Idier Wahid Taysir Hayb, claimed, he had shot at a man in military fatigues, however, photographic evidence clearly showed Hurndall was wearing a bright orange jacket indicating he was a foreigner. Hayb was an award-winning marksman and his rifle had a telescopic sight. He claimed to have aimed four inches from Hurndall’s head, “but he moved”.
The defence in the trial of Sergeant Hayb attempted to raise doubts as to what ultimately caused Hurndall’s death. Chen Kugel, an Israeli forensic pathologist appearing for the defence, attempted to convince the court that Hurndall died of pneumonia, he stated that the pneumonia had not been properly treated and “the large amounts of morphine” Hurndall was receiving contributed to his death. The court, however, rejected these false claims.
On 1 January 2004, Sergeant Hayb appeared in court to have his custody extended. Hayb was arrested in late December 2003 and an IDF press release said that he had “admitted to firing in proximity to an unarmed civilian as a deterrent.” Hayb initially admitted to shooting, what he described, as a man wearing a uniform of a Palestinian faction and armed with a pistol. After further interrogation he changed his story and said that he had fired a shot near an unarmed civilians as a warning, but ended up hitting him by mistake.
Hayb was indicated on six charges : Aggravated Assault; two counts of Obstruction of Justice; Incitement to False Testimony; False Testimony; and Improper Conduct.
On 27 June 2005, Hayb was convicted of manslaughter, obstruction of justice, giving false testimony and inducing comrades in his unit to bear false witness; and, on 11 August 2005, he was sentenced to eleven and a half years for manslaughter by a military court, of which he was to serve eight years in prison.
Hayb was released on September 8, 2010, only having served six and a half years of his sentence after an army committe concluded that he “no longer posed any threat to society in their view.”
Tom Hurndall died on January 13th 2004 at the tender age of 22 on a Tuesday night in a London hospital due to complications with pneumonia. After being shot he spent 9 months in a coma while in a vegetative state.
Tom Hurndall’s family and their legal team were denied any access to the military police report which led to the trial. After an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court the state prosecution offered the legal team access to the report, but not to the Hurndall family. According to a spokesman for the Tom Hurndall Foundation this will allow them to decide whether Hayb could be indicted for the more serious charge of murder, and to find out if responsibility for Hurndall’s death lies higher up the chain of command.
On 10 April 2006, a British inquest jury at St Pancras coroner’s court in London found that Hurndall had been “unlawfully killed”. Hurndall’s father told reporters that there had been a “general policy” to shoot civilians in the area without fear of retaliation, as stated by the soldier who fired the shot, Taysir Hayb. Hayb had earlier told a military tribunal that the Israeli army “fires freely in Rafah.”
“They shot our son but they can’t kill his spirit.”– Tom’s parents, Anthony and Jocelyn Hurndall, during a 2008 interview with The Observer.
Also, on January 10th, 2004, Jocelyn Hurndall, Tom’s mother, wrote a commentary in The Guardian, which stated:
“It seems that life is cheap in the occupied territories. Different value attached to life depends on whether the victim happens to be Israeli, international or Palestinian.”
“What do I want from this life? What makes you happy is not enough. All the things that satisfy our instincts only satisfy the animal in us. I want to be proud of myself. I want more. I want to look up to myself and when I die, I want to smile because of the things I have done, not cry for the things I haven’t done.”
Tom Hurndall is a true Palestinian hero.
His memory will live on forever.
Ma’an News – Hundreds of Palestinian activists set up protest tents on Friday in the controversial E1 corridor area near Jerusalem as part of the non-violent resistance movement against Israel’s occupation, a local group said.
Said Abdullah Abu Rahma, the coordinator of the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements in Bilin, told Ma’an that Palestinian activists had set up the village of Bab al-Shams, or ‘Gate of the Sun’, in protest against Israeli settlements.
“We will not be silent while settlements and the colonization of our land continues, and confirm that the village will endure until the rightful owners of the land are installed,” Abu Rahma said.
Over 25 tents and a medical clinic have been set-up in the E1 area by protestors from all over the West Bank.
The name of the village was inspired by Lebanese author Elias Khoury’s novel, which tells the story of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
“Israel has imposed facts on the ground for decades amid the silence of the international community, and the time has come to change the rules of the game, we are owners of this land and we will impose the reality on the ground,” Abu Rahma said.
Although there was no immediate response from the Israeli authorities, police and soldiers in the past have moved quickly to shut down any such spontaneous Palestinian camps
In December, Israel announced plans to build some 3,000 settler homes in the E1 corridor near Jerusalem, drawing widespread international condemnation.
Britain, France and several other European countries summoned Israeli envoys to protest the plan, while President Mahmoud Abbas called the E1 area “a red line that cannot be crossed.”
Construction in E1 would divide the West Bank and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state – as envisaged by the internationally backed two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – almost impossible.
Settlement building is illegal under international law.
A British textbook has been published that includes a map of the Middle East with “Occupied Palestine” marked on it rather than “Israel.”
Foreign Office says upgrade for college in settlement of Ariel will prove an obstacle to peace in the region
The British government has warned that the official authorisation of Israel’s first settlement university will create another hurdle in the peace process.
Israel’s defence secretary, Ehud Barak, approved the upgrade of a college in the settlement of Ariel, 11 miles inside the West Bank, earlier this week.
In a statement released on Thursday, the British foreign office minister Alistair Burt said the UK was deeply disappointed by the decision.
“Ariel is beyond the Green Line in a settlement that is illegal according to international law. This decision will deepen the presence of the settlements in the Palestinian territories and will create another obstacle to peace,” the statement said.
Burt repeated the government’s call for Israel to reverse a recent spate of settlement expansion plans, saying it should “take no further steps aimed at expanding or entrenching settlement activity”.
A spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said it was “disappointing to see that a [UK Foreign Office] minister should adopt the contested Palestinian position hook, line and sinker, thus adding controversy where it is already in excess”.
Britain and other European countries have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of Israel’s plans to build thousands of new homes in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They say such expansion threatens the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.
An internal analysis paper prepared by Israel’s foreign ministry has warned that the European Union may press for the establishment of a Palestinian state independent of negotiations in 2013.
According to a report in Haaretz, the paper said: “A growing understanding can be seen in the EU of the ineffectiveness of the current process.
“This understanding is accompanied by repeated calls to find new channels of progress … The emphasis from their perspective is not on actual direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather on the essential need to move ahead quickly to a permanent-status solution, because the EU recognises that without a solution, things could go downhill on the ground.”
European diplomats in Jerusalem have warned that 2013 could be the last chance for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Officials at Israel’s foreign ministry are concerned about the country’s growing isolation internationally, but fear there is a gap between their position and the stance taken by Israel’s political leadership.