Tom Hurndall

Tom Hurndall

Infobox Person
name = Thomas Hurndall
image_size = 205px
caption = Tom Hurndall
birth_date = birth date|1981|11|29|mf=y
birth_place = London
death_date = death date and age|2004|1|13|1981|11|29|mf=y
death_place = London
occupation = Aspiring Photojournalist

Thomas "Tom" Hurndall (29 November 1981 – 13 January 2004) was a British photography student, a volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and an activist against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. On 11 April 2003, he was shot in the head in the Gaza Strip by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) sniper, Taysir Hayb. Hurndall was left in a coma and died nine months later.

Hayb was convicted of manslaughter and obstruction of justice by an Israeli military court in April 2005 and sentenced to eight years in prison.cite web
url =
title = Soldier jailed for activist death
accessdate = 2006-10-24
date = 11 August 2005
publisher = BBC News
] On 10 April 2006, a British inquest found that Hurndall had been "intentionally killed", i.e. an official verdict of unlawful killing.cite web
url =,,1750915,00.html
title = British peace activist was ‘intentionally killed’
accessdate = 2006-10-24
last = Atkinson
first = Simon
coauthors = agencies
date = April 10, 2006
publisher = The Guardian

Tom's mother Jocelyn Hurndall has written a biography of him called "Defy the Stars: The Life and Tragic Death of Tom Hurndall", published in April 2007.

tudent turns activist

Age 21, Tom Hurndall took a working break from his degree course in photographic journalism to join the "human shields" in Iraq before the 2003 Iraq war.

As the volunteers ran out of money and war became inevitable, he moved to Jordan and donated £500 to medical supplies for refugees from Iraq. It was here he encountered the ISM, and decided to make his way overland to Gaza. He arrived in the town of Rafah on April 6 2003 and began emailing images of the IDF and the Palestinians back to his family. In his Guardian obituary it says "the tone of his journals changed dramatically" [ [ "The tone of his journals changed dramatically"] . Guardian Obituary, 22nd Jan 2004. Verified 7th Oct 2008.] and he justified his new location with "No one could say I wasn't seeing what needs to be seen now".


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 states that it came under fire from Palestinian militants 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.

His father told a British inquest that, according to ISM and Palestinian witnesses, Hurndall had seen a group of children playing and had noticed that bullets were hitting the ground between them. Several children had run away but some were "paralysed with fear" [ [ "As IDF rifle fire hit the mound, the children fled. But three, aged between four and seven, were paralysed by fear"] . Guardian Obituary, 22nd Jan 2004. Verified 7th Oct 2008.] and Hurndall went to help them. Hurndall's father told the inquest: “Tom went to take one girl out of the line of fire, which he did successfully, but when he went back, as he knelt down [to collect another] , he was shot.”

Inquiry and trial

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.Fact|date=February 2007 However, witnesses at the demonstration in the Palestinian town of Rafah said he had been hit by a rifle bullet while trying to shield the children rather than having been merely hit in the crossfire, and Hurndall's parents 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.

The defence in the trial of Sergeant Taysir attempted to raise doubts as to what ultimately caused Hurndall's death. A military court was informed that Hurndall died of pneumonia. Chen Kugel, an Israeli forensic pathologist appearing for the defence, stated that the pneumonia had not been properly treated and “the large amounts of morphine” Hurndall was receiving contributed to his death.cite web
url =,,251-1603781,00.html
title = Israeli sniper blames British doctors for death of activist
accessdate = 2006-10-24
last = Farrago
first = Yonit
coauthors = Stephen Farrell
date = May 9, 2005
publisher = The Times
] The court rejected these claims.

On 1 January 2004 20-year old Sergeant Taysir Hayb, 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.Fact|date=February 2007

On 12 February 2004, the charge was upgraded to one of manslaughter. According to an army statement, he was 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 10 May 2004 Sergeant Taysir's trial began at a military court in Ashkelon. There were six indictments: manslaughter; two counts of obstruction of justice; incitement to false testimony; false testimony; improper conduct. Taysir 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.

On 27 June 2005, Sergeant Taysir al-Heib was convicted of manslaughter, obstruction of justice, giving false testimony and inducing comrades in his unit to bear false witness.

On 11 August 2005, al-Heib was sentenced to eight years in prison by a military court.

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 Israeli 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, [ [ Tom Hurndall Foundation] . Verified 7th Oct 2008.] this will allow them to decide whether Taysir could be indicted for the more serious charge of murder, and to find out if responsibility for Hurndall's death lies higher up the chain of command. [ [ Lawyers see Gaza shooting report] . BBC 10th Aug 2004. Verified 7th Oct 2008.]


On April 10, 2006, a British inquest jury at St Pancras coroner's court in London found that Hurndall had been "intentionally killed". Hurndall's father told reporters that there had been a "general policy" to shoot civilians in the area without fear of reprisals, as stated by the soldier who fired the shot, Taysir Hayb. Hayb had earlier told a military tribunal that the Israeli army "fires freely in Rafah."Dodd, Vikram. [,,1750487,00.html "Israel to boycott inquest into death of British peace activist shot in Gaza"] , "The Guardian", April 10, 2006.] The lawyer representing the family, Michael Mansfield QC, stated: "Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defence force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder." A week earlier, an inquest found that the British journalist James Miller had been killed by an Israeli soldier just three weeks after Mr Hurndall was shot, a mile away from Hurndall's position. The coroner Dr. Andrew Reid stated that he would write to the attorney general about how similar incidences could be prevented, including the possible prosecutions of Israeli commanders, and that the case raised issues of command within the IDF. He stated that "two British citizens engaged in lawful activities" had been killed by Israeli soldiers, and that "British citizens, journalists, photographers or others may be subject to the risk of fatal shots."Dodd, Vikram. [,,1751369,00.html "Calls for UK to act over Britons shot dead in Gaza"] , "The Guardian", April 11, 2006.]

ee also

*James Miller (filmmaker)
*Rachel Corrie
*Brian Avery



*Initial news stories on the shooting (April 2003), from Ha'aretz [] and the BBC News []
*A news story reporting the opening of the investigation (October 2003), from the BBC News []
*News stories reporting the arrest of an IDF soldier (January 2004), from Ha'aretz [] , the BBC News [] , and Israel Insider []
*News stories reporting Hurndall's death, from Ha'aretz [] and the BBC News [] .
*A news story reporting a claim in the indictment that the soldier in question tried to cover up the shooting, from The Daily Telegraph [] .
* [,6903,1401737,00.html Parents fight to learn why Israeli sniper shot their son ] - Published January 30, 2005 " by The Observer".
* [,,251-1603781,00.html Times article reporting doubts on what ultimately casued Tom's death] . The Times, 9th May 2005.
* Haaretz article about the conviction: []
* [ Archived news video footage of Tom Hurndall]

External links

* [ The Thomas Hurndall Fund]
* [ Translation of Maariv article of Nov 27, 2003] (PDF)
* [ Eyewitness account of ISM member Joe Smith (contains explicit pictures)]
* [ Embassy of Israel in London Press Release]
* [ Video of IDF spokesperson claiming Tom was wearing fatigues and brandishing a pistol]
* [ Video taken moments after Tom was shot]
* [ Britons were intentionally killed by IDF, says inquest]
* [ Various BBC News video footage and a 30 minute documentary]

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