Tom Hurndall

Jan 15, 2004

Tom Hurndall

“We have to finally accept we are not going to have Tom back” Sophie Hurndall

The death of photographer Tom Hurndall is a tragedy for his family, but their ceaseless campaigning has meant that he has not died in vain.

Tom was shot in the head and fatally wounded by an Israeli solider. He died on Tuesday at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney after eight months in a coma.

The 22-year-old was wounded while protecting Palestinian children in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza strip as they played under the gun sights of the Israeli military.

The student had travelled to Iraq in February with the Human Shield mission of direct action activists who hoped to guard civilians from the “shock and awe” of the US and UK bombing, and this is where we met.

I was with Tom in Baghdad when he and a few friends decided to leave the Iraqi capital and join the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza.

They knew travelling through the Palestinian territories was dangerous but believed they would be safer under the gaze the Israeli army than being caught between Iraqi and American fire in Baghdad.

But not a single Human Shield died in Iraq, to the best of my knowledge. So far two people who travelled on the same coach from Amman to Baghdad have been killed by the Israeli army while in Gaza: The award winning camera man and producer James Miller was killed by the Israeli army just a month after Tom.

Tom made a conscious decision to risk death to help protect the children of Palestine from an army which has killed with impunity. The photographer also hoped to draw attention the barbarity of the Israeli military through his work. He paid with his life.

The soldier who killed Tom has now admitted that the student was unarmed, and was not wearing camouflage, at the time of the shooting. He claimed he was responding to Palestinian fire but has admitted this too was a lie. After interrogation he conceded he had lied to cover up this brutal act.

The killer, a member of the Bedouin Patrol Battalion, now faces the possible charge of manslaughter. He now claims he shot “in proximity to an unarmed civilian in order to deter him”.

But the high standard of training and equipment in the Israeli Defence Force, and their record of fatally wounding Palestinian civilians from their concrete watchtowers, suggests this was a deliberate act.

The soldier was overlooking Tom and the children from a watch-tower just 150 yards away. So far everything the ISM witnesses to the shooting have claimed has proved to be true.

The continued campaigning of his family had meant that his sacrifice could save lives. The Israeli army now knows that the world is watching.

As many as one in every five Palestinian killed by Israeli soldiers is a child and the Rafah camp where Mr Hurndall was shot has seen more than its fair share of killings. Despite this not a single soldier has been convicted of a crime and just 10 have been indicted.

Tom’s mother, Jocelyn Hurndall, explained to me that their aim was not just to get justice for her eldest son but also to end the “culture of impunity” which allows heavily armed Israeli military to kill Palestinian on an almost daily basis.

“We hope that prosecution of the soldier involved in the shooting of Tom will send a message to all soldiers in the occupied territories,” she has said. “They cannot commit breaches of human rights whether these be killing, maiming, humiliation, the destruction of homes or the collective punishment of whole communities.

“We wish every Israeli soldier to get the message very clearly that they cannot shoot with impunity, that they are answerable for their actions.”

The Hurndall campaign is far from over. Just last week two Israeli peace activists were shot and seriously wounded with live ammunition. They were protesting against the “apartheid wall” which is being build in the West Bank, throwing Palestinians already exiled by the occupation off their land.

The death of Tom Hurndall is a tragedy for anyone who believes in justice and human rights. But those who continue to campaign against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the killing of innocent children in Gaza, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, will keep his memory and his legacy alive.

Brendan Montague

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