Shooting of Tom Hurndall in Rafah

Shooting of Tom Hurndall in Rafah

Date: Friday, 11 Apr 2003
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Thomas Hurndall (November 29, 1981 - January 13, 2004) was a British photographer and member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and an activist against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. On April 11, 2003, he was shot in the head by an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldier and suffered irreversible brain damage, dying from his wound nine months later.

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, 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 claims it came under fire from Palestinian gunmen 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. According to ISM and Palestinian witnesses, he had run out into the street to try to lead three Palestinian children to safety. The head wound put him into a coma in which he would remain for the remaining nine months of his life.

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, Hurndall's parents collected evidence that he was shot at personally, rather than having been merely hit in the crossfire, and demanded an investigation. 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.

On January 1, 2004, 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. Subsequently, 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.

On February 12, 2004, the charge was upgraded to one of manslaughter. According to an army statement, he is 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 unbecoming conduct."

On May 10, 2004, the trial of Sergeant Idier Wahid Taysir, 20, began at a military court in Ashkalon. There were six indictments : manslaughter; two counts of obstruction of justice; incitement to false testimony; false testimony; improper conduct. Yatsir 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 the 19th. Until early August 2004, the trial remained adjourned for much of the time.

Despite "promises from the Israeli Government of transparency and openness", 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 Supreme Court, 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 srious charge of murder, and to find out if responsibility lies higher up the chain of command.

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