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Thomas "Tom" Hurndall (29 November 1981 – 13 January 2004) was a Britishmarker photography student, a volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and an activist against the Israelimarker occupation of the Palestinian territoriesmarker. On 11 April 2003, he was shot in the head in the Gaza Stripmarker by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sniper, Taysir Hayb. Hurndall was left in a coma and died nine months later.

Hayb was convicted of manslaughter and obstruction of justice by an Israeli military court in April 2005 and sentenced to eight years in prison. On 10 April 2006, a British inquest jury returned a verdict of unlawful killing meaning "intentionally killed", or, according to the Hurndall family QC, murdered.

Tom's mother Jocelyn Hurndall has written a biography of him called Defy the Stars: The Life and Tragic Death of Tom Hurndall, published in April 2007 and reprinted in May 2008 with the alternative title My Son Tom: The Life and Tragic Death of Tom Hurndal.

Student turns activist

Age 21, Tom Hurndall took a working break from his degree course in photographic journalism to join the "human shields" in Iraqmarker before the 2003 Iraq war.

As the volunteers ran out of money and war became inevitable, he moved to Jordanmarker and donated £500 to medical supplies for refugees from Iraq. It was here he encountered the ISM, and decided to make his way overland to Gazamarker. He arrived in the town of Rafahmarker on April 6, 2003 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" and he justified his new location with "No one could say I wasn't seeing what needs to be seen now".

Killing

In April 2003, the IDF were on a mission in the Gazamarker border town of Rafahmarker. Hurndall and a group of activists were in the area, having planned to set up a peace tent on one of the nearby roads to blockade IDF tank patrols. At an IDF checkpoint on April 11, the IDF states that it came under fire from Palestinian militants and returned fire, causing Hurndall's group of nine activists to abandon their protest and seek cover. Hurndall then ran out into the street and was shot in the head by an IDF soldier.

His father told a British inquest that, according to ISM and Palestinian witnesses, Hurndall 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.”

Israeli inquiry and trial

The IDF initially refused more than a routine internal inquiry, which concluded that Hurndall was shot accidentally in the crossfire, and suggested that his group's members were essentially functioning as human shields. However, witnesses at the demonstration in the Palestinian town of Rafah said he had been hit by a rifle bullet while trying to shield the children rather than having been merely hit in the crossfire, and Hurndall's parents demanded an investigation.

Investigation by pressure

After several months of pressure from the parents, supported in part by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Israel's Judge Advocate General Menahem Finkelstein in October 2003 ordered the IDF to open a military police investigation into Hurndall's death.

Tasyir Hayb's early testimony

Idier Wahid Taysir Hayb (or al-Heib), whose sister Amira al Hayb is the first female Bedouin soldier in the IDF, claimed, he had shot at a man in military fatigues although photographic evidence clearly showed Hurndall was wearing a bright orange jacket denoting 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". Hayb said a policy of shooting at unarmed civilians existed at the time.

Autopsy report

The defence in the trial of Sergeant Taysir attempted to raise doubts as to what ultimately caused Hurndall's death. A military court was informed that Hurndall died of pneumonia. Chen Kugel, an Israeli forensic pathologist appearing for the defence, stated that the pneumonia had not been properly treated and “the large amounts of morphine” Hurndall was receiving contributed to his death. The court rejected these claims.

Hayb's change of testimony

In 1 January 2004 20-year old Sergeant Taysir Hayb, an IDF soldier from a Bedouin patrol, appeared in court to have his custody extended; apparently he had been 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". Initially the soldier admitted to shooting what he described as a man wearing a uniform of a Palestinian faction and armed with a pistol. Upon further interrogation, he changed his story, and said he had fired a shot near an unarmed civilian as a deterrent, but ended up hitting him unintentionally.

Indictments

After his changed testimony, the soldier was indicted on six charges, including a charge of aggravated assault; following Hurndall's death, the military judge overseeing the case indicated the charge was likely to be changed to manslaughter or murder.

In 12 February 2004, the charge was upgraded to one of manslaughter. According to an army statement, he was also charged with "intent to cause injury, two counts of obstruction of justice, one count of submitting false information, one count of incitement to submit false information and one count of conduct unbecoming."

In 10 May 2004 Sergeant Taysir's trial began at a military court in Ashkelonmarker. There were six indictments: manslaughter; two counts of obstruction of justice; incitement to false testimony; false testimony; improper conduct. Taysir had entered a plea of "Not Guilty" to all charges at an earlier non-public hearing. After some argument over the admissibility of Taysir's confession, the trial was adjourned until May 19. Until early August 2004, the trial remained adjourned for much of the time.

Verdict

In 27 June 2005, Sergeant Taysir al-Heib was convicted of manslaughter, obstruction of justice, giving false testimony and inducing comrades in his unit to bear false witness and in August 11, he was sentenced to 11 and a half years for manslaughter, of which he will serve 8 years by a military court.

Military police report access denial

Tom Hurndall's family and their legal team were denied access to the military police report which led to the trial. After an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Courtmarker, the state prosecution offered access to the report to the legal team, but not the Hurndall family, in early August. According to a spokesman for the Tom Hurndall Foundation, this will allow them to decide whether Taysir 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.

British inquest

On April 10, 2006, a Britishmarker inquest jury at St Pancrasmarker coroner's court in London found that Hurndall had been "intentionally killed". Hurndall's father told reporters that there had been a "general policy" to shoot civilians in the area without fear of reprisals, 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 Rafahmarker." The lawyer representing the family, Michael Mansfield QC, stated:
Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defence force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder.
A week earlier, an inquest found that the British journalist James Miller had been killed by an Israeli soldier just three weeks after Mr Hurndall was shot, a mile away from Hurndall's position. The coroner Dr. Andrew Reid stated that he would write to the Attorney General about how similar incidences could be prevented, including the possible prosecutions of Israeli commanders, and that the case raised issues of command within the IDF. He stated that "two British citizens engaged in lawful activities" had been killed by Israeli soldiers, and that "British citizens, journalists, photographers or others may be subject to the risk of fatal shots."

Media

Tom's mother Jocelyn Hurndall wrote a commentary in The Guardian on 10 January 2004, in which she 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.


Documentaries

On 13 October 2008, Channel 4 broadcast a dramatised documentary The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall, which was written by Simon Block and directed by Rowan Joffe. Stephen Dillane plays Anthony and Kerry Fox plays Jocelyn Hurndall. Anthony and Jocelyn Hurndall were interviewed at length in The Observer prior to the airing of the documentary:

The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall is nominated for 2009 BAFTA TV Awards as Best Single Drama (Simon Block, Rowan Joffe, Barney Reisz, Charles Furneaux) and won Best Actor (Stephen Dillane) and Best Director Fiction/Entertainment (Rowan Joffe). In Monte Carlo TV Festival Rowan Joffe won Golden Nymph 2009 as Best Director in a TV Film.

Artistic tributes

Tom Hurndall memorialized in second movement (Dance for Tom Hurndall (no lyrics)) of US composer Philip Munger's 2003 cantata The Skies are Weeping which is titled after by Thushara Wijeratna's poem. The cantata which comprises seven movements for a soprano soloist, chamber choir, and percussion ensemble, is written in memory of Rachel Corrie, an American member of the International Solidarity Movement killed in 2003 by a bulldozer operated by the Israel Defense Forces while she tried to prevent a house demolition in the southern Gaza Stripmarker during the Second Intifada.

See also

  • James Miller - British film-maker shot and killed in Gaza, May 2, 2003.
  • Rachel Corrie - American ISM volunteer killed by Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, March 16, 2003.
  • Brian Avery - American ISM volunteer shot and severely disfigured in Jeninmarker, April 5, 2003.


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