11 April 2006

Diary of a death foretold: how Gaza Briton was shot by Israelis

Times Online

By Andrew Norfolk
April 11, 2006

A YOUNG British peace activist who died after being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier was “intentionally killed”, an inquest jury ruled yesterday.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usFive days before he was fatally injured, Tom Hurndall, 22, wrote in his journal that he had been “shot at, gassed, chased by soldiers, had sound grenades thrown within metres of me, been hit by falling debris and been in the way of a 10-tonne D9 [bulldozer] that didn’t stop.

“It took a huge amount of will to continue. I wondered what it would be like to be shot, and strangely I wasn’t too scared,” he wrote, adding that he knew that an Israeli sniper could be targeting him at any moment.

“The certainty is that they are watching, and it is in the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler that my life depends. I know that I’d probably never know what hit me, but it’s part of the job to be as visible as possible.”

Mr Hurndall, from North London, was trying to lead children out of the line of fire in Gaza when he was targeted by an Israeli army marksman, who had a rifle with a telescopic sight. The peace activist was wearing a bright orange jacket to identify him as a civilian volunteer.

His mother, Jocelyn Hurndall, wept yesterday at a London coroner’s court as she read extracts from his journal.

The inquest, at St Pancras Coroner’s Court, heard that Mr Hurndall, a student at Manchester Metropolitan University, was in Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement.

He died from his injuries after spending nine months in a coma after the April 2003 shooting in the Palestinian town of Rafah. The activist’s father, Antony Hurndall, a City lawyer, told the hearing that on the day of the shooting, his son and other activists had been trying to block Israeli tanks that were shooting randomly into local houses.

Mr Hurndall, his father said, noticed that bullets were hitting the ground near a group of 10-15 children who were playing on a mound of sand. Most fled but some were paralysed by fear. “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.”

Mr Hurndall said the Israeli authorities initially claimed that his son had been shot during a return of fire with a gunman. “They just lied continuously. It was a case of them shooting civilians and then making up a story. And they were not used to being challenged.”

A campaign by the Hurndall family led to Taysir Hayb, a former sergeant in the Israeli Defence Force, being sentenced last year to eight years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter by a military court. Israeli authorities declined to take part in the inquest.

The jury of five men and five women ruled that Mr Hurndall “was shot intentionally with the intention of killing him”, and voiced its “dismay with the lack of co-operation from the Israeli authorities”.

Three weeks after Mr Hurndall’s shooting, a British cameraman James Miller, 34, was also shot and killed in Rafah. An inquest at the same coroner’s court last week resulted in a verdict that Mr Miller, who was filming a documentary about Palestinian children in Gaza, was deliberately and unlawfully killed. The coroner, Dr Andrew Reid, who presided over both inquests, said yesterday that he would be writing to the Attorney-General to see whether any further legal action could be taken over the deaths of the two Britons.

Michael Mansfield, QC, representing Mr Hurndall’s parents, said yesterday that they were delighted. “This has been a long and harrowing struggle for them in their search for the truth. Today is a vindication of that struggle,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, the Israeli Defence Force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder.”

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