Published on Monday, October 20, 2003 by the Guardian/UK
Rafah in Miniature
Six Months After my Son was Shot by Israeli Troops, the British Government has Yet to Condemn the Act
by Jocelyn Hurndall
Last Thursday, I delivered a letter to Mr Blair expressing my despair at the Israeli government's lack of response to our call for a full inquiry into the death of my son, Tom. While working as a photojournalist, Tom was shot in the head by an Israeli commander in Rafah, Gaza. He had been walking down a calm civilian street where 20 children were playing when snipers began shooting at them. He was carrying the children to safety when he was shot, and was wearing a fluorescent human rights jacket. He posed no threat. His brain is severely damaged and he will not recover. Following our traumatic seven-week stay in Israel as we watched our son on the verge of death, we submitted a report to Israel's judge advocate general through the British Foreign Office, and requested a fully transparent inquiry. We included 13 eyewitness statements and considerable photographic evidence of Tom just before and after he was shot.
It has now been six months since Tom was shot, and three-and-a-half months since his case was handed to the Israeli judge advocate general. As yet, we have heard nothing apart from a collection of unutterably bland excuses. "The complexity and subtleness of the examination process," we are told, "demand due consideration and considerable time"; and "There was another suicide bombing and so he [the judge advocate general] has a lot to deal with."
We note the sense of urgency with which Britain condemned and apologized for the British passport-holding suicide bombers; we note, too, the speed with which America dispatched FBI agents in response to the bombing a week ago which killed three US security personnel at the Erez checkpoint in the Gaza Strip. In Tom's case, as in Rachel Corrie's and others, there has been no urgency at all, and yet the need to ensure that evidence is carefully assessed and gathered is surely no less crucial.
Why should it be for grieving parents to have to arrange interviews with the 13 eyewitnesses to the shooting, or to gather photographic, ballistic, forensic and medical evidence?
The British government ought to have been proactive in collecting and protecting evidence. But while it dragged its feet, the Israeli army demolished the tower from which Tom was shot to move it a few meters down the border. This action alone will make it almost impossible to dispute the claim that the sniper who shot Tom had no clear line of vision. Six months on, eyewitnesses have dispersed, some have even found themselves inappropriately detained and then deported.
The tragedy that has befallen Tom and our family is a microcosm of the wide-scale terror felt by thousands of other families in the occupied territories.
I am in ineffable distress after the loss of a son. But I have a regular income, food, running water, electricity, an intact roof over my head, access to a hospital, the knowledge that gunfire is unlikely to endanger my other children on their journey to school and that my sleep is unlikely to be broken by gunfire or the sound of tanks. I have a decent life.
Last week the Israeli army's incursion into Rafah - the largest since the beginning of the intifada three years ago - left 120 houses demolished, 1,500 civilians homeless, eight dead and 60 injured. Afterwards, I received an email from Anees, one of Tom's friends in the city, telling me that his house has been demolished. He and the 26 members of his extended family are among those left homeless and very afraid that the Israeli army may come back at any moment. It was this young man who, in a state of complete anguish, lifted Tom from the ground after he was shot.
Why won't Tony Blair represent the interests of his citizens and put significant pressure on Ariel Sharon to conduct a full and transparent inquiry into Tom's death? Polite requests will not do. And why won't he challenge Mr Bush's support of Israel, a regime which is cruel beyond human understanding? I have seen it for myself: the demolition of houses, the destruction of olive groves, the process of depriving people of the ability to earn a living, the closure of checkpoints, the destruction of water supplies and electricity, lethally enforced curfews, humiliation, terror. In short, the dehumanization of a people.
It should not be necessary to experience the terror of Palestinians in order to act. Britain finds it acceptable to indulge in a facade of diplomacy by ab staining from two critical UN security council votes: one condemning Israel's policy decision to assassinate or expel a state leader, Yasser Arafat; and the other seeking to bar Israel from extending a security fence deep into the West Bank. Both these issues have received worldwide condemnation - on what basis can Britain justify being unclear or undecided about its position on these questions?
I can't help recalling Mr Blair's resolve, when deciding to go to war with Iraq, that he did not wish to be accused of inaction or for this to be on his conscience at a later date. Where does his conscience lie now in relation to Britain's inaction over Palestine?
· Tom Hurndall, 22, remains in hospital on life support after an Israeli soldier shot him last April.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003