Middle East

Hurndall’s mom: ‘the truth needs to come out’

On New Years day, Jocelyn Hurndall held her son Tom’s hand as he lay in a vegetative state in a London hospital and told him that the IDF soldier who shot him, had finally confessed.

She did not expect any response from Tom, 22, a British photography student, who has been in a coma since he was shot in the head on April 11, in the Rafah refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip.

Witnesses said he was pushing children out of the line of IDF gunfire, when a bullet hit him in the forehead.

“I blessed him, and I held his hand, and told him that we were very proud of him and I did tell him that the soldier who had shot him had now been arrested,” she said.

Hurndall came to Israel in April to volunteer for the pro-Palestinian activist group, the International Solidarity Movement, after acting as a human shield in Iraq.

In both Iraq and Israel he was also working on a photography project for his degree course at Manchester Metropolitan University. On the day of his death, he emailed on his professors telling her how excited he was about pictures he was compiling and that he would be back in England soon.

Photographs he took in the last days of his life show children playing in the ruins of bullet riddled and bombed homes in Rafah.

Hurndall, who is clinically brain dead, is not expected to live much longer. Since April, the Hurndall family has sought information regarding their son’s death and worked to dispute initial IDF reports that their son was armed. While in Israel, tending to Tom as he lay in a Beersheba hospital in the weeks following the shooting, the family put together its own investigation.

They conducted interviews and compiled photographs as well as a ballistics and forensic report. “These were a wide cross section of people who were present, international journalists and members of the ISM. Not a single eye witness statement said there was resistance fire in complete contrast to the original statement of the soldier,” said Jocelyn.

After so much resistance and misinformation from the IDF, Jocelyn was startled, on the morning of the 31st to get a phone call from the British Foreign Office while she sat at home working on her computer informing her of the soldiers arrest and confession. The soldier said he fired in the direction of an unarmed civilian as a deterrence measure.

“It came as a surprise. It has been a very long time coming,” said Jocelyn. “We are, I suppose, at least pleased that a measure of truth has begun to come out. It is an important step, but it is a first step. There is a long way to go yet, there is a lot more truth that needs to come out,” said Jocelyn. “We knew from the onset that this was unlawful killing,” said Jocelyn. Still, she said, there was something about hearing the IDF’s admission after all these months of claiming otherwise, that made her angry.

“It is the first day since Tom was shot that I have begun to feel anger. I have always kept myself very under control,” said Jocelyn. She can’t help but note the way that the IDF treats foreigners and Palestinians compared with Israelis.

It took the IDF only 24 hours to launch an investigation into the shooting of an Israeli activist protesting the security fence last month, while her family waited many months for the army to consider that an investigation was necessary, said Jocelyn. Even worse she said, is the way the shooting of innocent Palestinians and other human rights abuses is not taken seriously. “Palestinians are not children of a lesser God,” she said.

As a British citizen, she was able to speak up and be heard, she said. “If we had not made a great deal of fuss, absolutely nothing would have been done by the IDF and we would have had to been content with a fabrication of the IDF field report,” said Jocelyn. She said she hoped that there would be a “level” of openness in the continuing investigation into her son’s shooting. “We would like to see the final report. It has not been an open report to date,” said Jocelyn.

She is also concerned about the punishment meted out to the soldier. On one hand she wants to make sure that it is appropriate given the fact that her son is expected to die from his injuries.

At the same time she worries that the soldier will be made a scapegoat for what she describes as a “culture of impunity” within the IDF.

“I hope that the message being given to every Israeli commander and soldier is that they can not shoot with impunity and they are accountable for their actions,” said Jocelyn.

She isn’t satisfied with the soldier’s statement that his was a deterrence shot, given the sophistication of the telescopic lenses used by the IDF. “It is simply not credible that a shot through the center of a forehead could be mistaken for anything other than an intended shot to kill or maim,” said Jocelyn.

“We believe very firmly that the soldier is just one example of an overwhelming number of examples that show that the IDF has come to believe that they can get away with shooting with impunity, that is not acceptable in any state,” said Jocelyn.

It has been a hard holiday season for her family, which includes three other children; Sophie 24, Billy, 18 and Freddie 13. “We have just had a Christmas and New Years without his [Tom’s] wit, laughter and intelligence,” said Jocelyn, adding that she knows they are not the only ones suffering.

“I am reminded of so many Palestinians and Israeli families who likewise have had to go through the New Year without some member of their family,” said Jocelyn. She also noted that her son is not the only British citizen harmed by IDF gunfire.

Cameraman James Miller, 34 was fatally shot by IDF gunfire as soldiers responded to Palestinian gunfire in May, 2003.

In November, 2002, UN aid worker Iain Hook was fatally shot by the IDF, while they aimed at Palestinian gunmen shooting from inside the compound of the UNRWA in Jenin.

Other ISM members have also been harmed by the IDF in the last year. In March, 2003, US college student Rachel Corrie, 23, was killed while trying to stop an IDF bulldozer in Rafah. Her death was ruled, “accidental.” On April 5, US activist, Brian Avery, 24, was shot in the face in Jenin by IDF soldiers. He is recovering from his injuries.

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