The family of a British peace activist shot in the head by an Israeli soldier is considering applying to the courts for permission to turn off his life support machine.
Doctors in Britain have told Tom Hurndall's family that he does not feel a thing. But his family find that hard to believe as they watch the twisting body and contorted face of the 22-year-old who is in a "vegetative state" after being shot in April.
"Tom can move, he flails, he turns his head from side to side from his shoulders upwards and grimaces," said his sister, Sophie, 24. "He looks like he is in agony. He looks like he is in hell. It is the most heart-rending and torturous thing to watch." Ms Hurndall said the family may seek a court order aiming to end Tom's life. It could take up to six months to obtain, and then a further 14 days for him to die.
"For me, Tom has already died but there's still no closure," said Sophie. "At the same time, it causes so much suffering and pain going in to see him. It's just an innate instinct to help him, to stop him suffering."
The Hurndalls, from Tufnell Park, north London, are one of three British and American families struggling to extract from the Israeli government and military the truth about how loved ones were killed or horrendously wounded by soldiers.
All three families have accused the authorities of fabricating evidence, suppressing investigations and covering-up deliberate killings.
Tom Hurndall's mother, Jocelyn, wrote to Tony Blair last week demanding he exert more pressure on Israel to hold a transparent inquiry. Writing in today's Guardian, she calls the Israeli government a "deeply immoral regime which is cruel beyond human understanding".
The three victims were all shot in Rafah, a refugee camp in southern Gaza which the Israelis call a "war zone":
· Tom Hurndall, a student photographer volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement, was shot as he tried to protect children under fire from Israeli soldiers;
· James Miller, a 34-year-old British television cameraman, was killed a month later. His relatives are traveling to Israel next week to put pressure on the military to make its inquiry public and to admit it lied about the circumstances of his death;
· Rachel Corrie, a young American peace activist, was crushed to death by an army bulldozer in March. Her parents are still trying to obtain a copy of the military investigation which cleared the driver.
The Corries had been told the report was secret until they found that the Israeli government was covertly distributing it among members of the US Congress to prevent an independent investigation.
In only one case has there been a proper investigation: the death of Iain Hook from Felixstowe. He was head of the UN rebuilding program in Jenin when he was shot by an Israeli sniper in November.
The army falsely claimed he was shot while standing among Palestinian gunmen in the UN compound. Israel paid compensation to Hook's family but attached confidentiality clauses which suppressed a public admission of culpability for what some of the UN worker's colleagues have called "cold-blooded murder".
All four families have carried out their own investigations after swiftly losing faith in the Israeli authorities.
"Sincerity isn't a word I would use in conjunction with the Israeli military," said James Miller's brother, John. "I have absolutely no confidence in what they tell me. I think the Israelis operate a war of attrition that just grinds you down in the hope you'll give up."
The Hurndalls have concluded that Israel has no intention of seriously investigating the shooting of their son, who was wearing a bright orange jacket, and had already carried a small boy to safety and was stooping to pick up a girl when the bullet struck.
The army investigation said that a sniper in a watchtower fired at a man wearing camouflage clothes and carrying a gun. The military came up with five theories for how the student came to be hit, all built around the claim that there was an unidentified gunman on the scene.
His father, Anthony, a lawyer, visited Rafah and compiled his own 50-page report in July. The report, seen by the Guardian, concludes that the army invented the gunman to justify the shooting. Mr Hurndall's report accuses the army of lying, withholding evidence and major factual errors.
"The events described are two different events: one real and the other a fabrication," Mr Hurndall wrote in his report. "The distance from the tower is about 150 meters[500ft]. For an experienced soldier, it is not possible to believe that he was under any misapprehension that Tom was a Palestinian gunman."
Mr Hurndall wrote that the chiefs of staff had given "the clear signal to their soldiers and to the international community that in Israel soldiers can and do deliberately kill and maim innocent civilians, Palestinian and international, without cause and with impunity".
In May, the Israelis promised the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, that there would be a "full and transparent inquiry" into Tom's shooting, but this has yet to materialize. In July, the then foreign office minister responsible for the Middle East, Baroness Symons, wrote to the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, pressing for a military police criminal investigation after seeing a copy of the Hurndall investigation.
"Their report contains very powerful and disturbing photographic evidence to support the written account that they, and a considerable number of witnesses, have given of Tom's shooting," she wrote.
The Israelis took two months to reply, and then only to say that a decision on a criminal inquiry was still being considered.
The Israeli government said it had shown "goodwill" by offering to pay Tom Hurndall's medical and repatriation costs. But, four months after he was flown home, the family says they have not seen a penny.
Nearly six months after James Miller's death, his family is still battling to see the army's investigation. Miller was shot as he left Rafah filming bulldozers destroying homes. The fatal bullet came from an armored vehicle he had approached waving a white flag and shouting to the soldiers. The next day, Colonel Avi Levy, Israel's deputy commander in Gaza, said that Miller had walked into a battle.
"Troops in an armored vehicle were searching for weapons-smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border when the soldiers came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades. The troops returned fire," he said. A day later, Col Levy went further and said Miller had been shot "from behind", possibly by a Palestinian.
Neither claim was true. Video footage suggests there was no gun battle and the only shots came from an Israeli soldier. The postmortem said that the bullet struck him from the front and ballistics tests showed it came from an Israeli gun.
The family's lawyer in Israel, Avigdor Feldman, has called the killing "criminal", saying the soldier had targeted Miller.
Army investigators belatedly ordered the guns of 15 soldiers impounded for ballistics tests, but only nine were secured and they had consecutive serial numbers. They are only likely to be the real weapons used on the night if they were carried by soldiers who joined the army on the same day, were issued guns at the same time and were all assigned to the same unit. The ballistics tests have yet to be carried out.
Miller's brother, John, said the family was given an assurance by the Israeli deputy defense minister, Ze'ev Boim, that the results of the investigation would be released. "We were told we would be able to see it in its entirety. Ze'ev Boim said it at a press conference in Paris and in an interview on television," he said. "Now they say they won't show it to us because the military police investigation is under way."
Cindy and Craig Corrie have been similarly frustrated. Rachel Corrie, 23, was crushed under the blade of one of the army's monster bulldozers as it prepared to destroy Palestinian homes in Rafah.
The army said the driver had not seen the young woman. The government refuses to let the Corries see the evidence that led the military to clear itself, but Rachel's parents were able to read a copy of a report circulated to the US Congress after meeting a sympathetic congressman who left it on his desk and walked out of the room.
"Having read the report we still have questions," said Cindy Corrie, noting that the Israelis changed their account several times and misrepresented evidence.
Mr Corrie said: "They say that the doctor that did the autopsy said that her death was probably caused by tripping on the debris or perhaps by being covered by the debris. Well, that statement is not in the autopsy."
The Corries were disturbed by an incident as they visited the site of their daughter's death in Rafah. For their own safety, the Israeli army had asked them where they would be and when. The Corries complied. But in the middle of dinner with a Palestinian family, the Corries looked out of the house to see a bulldozer heading toward the building.
"It was surprisingly aggressive and provocative considering they absolutely knew who we were and why we were there," Mr Corrie said.
The British and American families emphasize that their cases are no worse than the suffering of hundreds of Palestinians whose children have been killed by the army during the three-year intifada.
Even the most blatant cases of extrajudicial killing by soldiers are rarely investigated by the military police, and usually only after adverse publicity. Only nine soldiers have been charged with illegal killings; so far, there has not been one conviction in three years.
But the families of the foreign victims find it telling that even under diplomatic pressure, and with greater media attention, Israel has shown little interest in getting to the truth that the Hurndalls, Millers and Corries are seeking.
"Our primary objective is to see a criminal prosecution for the chap that pulled a trigger and the person that gave the order, if there was such a person. Secondly, there is an acceptable level of acceptance and apology, and thirdly financial restitution," said John Miller.
"With Iain Hook, the Israelis settled with a gagging order. That shows they have some acceptance but they just don't want negative PR. There's no possibility we'll sign confidentiality clauses that allow them to hide. That's the point of this, that everyone should know what goes on."
Sophie Hurndall agrees. "If we were to accept hush money, it would be totally wrong. What's going on in Palestine is horrific. Tom is a symbol of that horror. If we were to compromise what we could do with that symbol for money, I don't think it's even an option. It would go against everything Tom was and what he believed."
Israeli officials said they were unable to comment while investigations continue.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003