Published on Sunday, April 13, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
Israeli Army 'Targeted' Peace Activist
Parents of injured British student demand investigation into 'deliberately reckless actions'
by Andrew Johnson and Justin Huggler in Jerusalem
The parents of a British student shot in the head by Israeli troops yesterday accused the Israeli government of "deliberate recklessness".
Tom Hurndall, 21, is in a critical condition in Bir Sheva hospital and may be brain damaged after being shot by a sniper on Friday.
Speaking with his wife Jocelyn at home in north London, before leaving for Israel, Mr Hurndall, a lawyer, referred to suspicions that the Israeli army has begun targeting "human shields".
"I think the army is deliberately careless if not deliberately reckless as to who they target," he said.
Tom Hurndall is the third Western activist shield to be seriously hurt in the last month. Rachel Corrie, from the US, was killed by a bulldozer she was trying to prevent from moving last month. Brian Avery, 24, an American, was shot in the face in the West Bank, in Jenin, last week.
Tom's parents say he was walking down a street in Rafah, in Gaza, with other peace activists when they heard gunfire and locals ran for cover.
Tom saw three children exposed on a mound and went to collect them. He carried one to safety and was returning for another when he was shot, his mother said. His bright clothing identified him as a peace activist, she added. His father said: "In that situation, to be shot seems extraordinary."
Tom Wallace, of the International Solidarity Movement, said local children had come to watch the activists' protest, as they often did. He said shots were being fired over the protesters' heads from one of two Israeli watchtowers nearby. "The activists and all the women and kids decided to move away," he said. "They were moving very slowly, and he was standing in front of the women and kids to protect them while they were moving.
"They were trying to evacuate the area and that is when he was shot." Mr Wallace said a high-caliber bullet hit Mr Hurndall, suggesting it had been fired by a nearby sniper. "The only way that the truth about this incident will be established is if the British Government demands and carries out a full investigation."
Tom's mother said the first-year photography student in Manchester was "first and foremost a humanitarian". "He was not primarily political. He just wanted to help people.
"He had only been a member of the peace group for five days ... I can't think of anyone more suited to be a peace campaigner."
Tom had initially traveled to Baghdad before the war in Iraq to act as a human shield. Unhappy with the Iraqi government's treatment of peace activists, he left for Jordan, a move that left his parents feeling relieved. "I didn't know he had gone into Gaza, into the camps," his father said. "I was relieved when I heard he had left Iraq," he said.
The family only found out about the shooting when his elder sister received a phone call from a tabloid newspaper on Friday. "We had a family weep this morning," said Tom's mother, head of learning support at a primary school.
Tom's girlfriend, Michelle, who is also a member of ISM, was said to be at his bedside.
The Foreign Office in London said consulate officials in Britain and Jerusalem were ready to assist Tom's family.
Mr Hurndall's fellow activists were yesterday deliberating whether to stay on in Rafah – some believe they are being deliberately targeted by the Israeli army.
Raphael Cohen, from London, who was standing a few feet from Mr Hurndall when he was shot, said he and other activists had stayed on in Rafah despite seeing their colleague shot in the head.
The ISM has been denounced by the Israeli authorities as one-sided. The activists are pro-Palestinian but they are unarmed.
"The Israelis are clearly taking advantage of the international attention on Iraq to target us," Mr Cohen said. "We have a good presence in Rafah and I think that has prevented the Israelis doing some of what they want here."
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd