British activist shot in head by Israeli troops
Student peace worker suffers suspected brain damage in attack while protecting Palestinian family in Gaza Strip
Conal Urquhart in Jerusalem
Saturday April 12, 2003
A British peace activist was shot in the head yesterday as he tried to help a Palestinian woman and her children flee Israeli gunfire.
Tom Hurndall was shot as he moved towards the family in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. He was wearing a fluorescent orange vest, and witnesses say that there had been no exchange of fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian gunmen that day.
According to doctors at Rafah Hospital, he is believed to have suffered brain damage.
Alice Coy, 27, a peace activist from London, said that their group had been on their way to pitch a tent by a mosque yesterday afternoon.
They planned to try to prevent an Israeli tank repeating its nightly routine of taking position at the mosque and firing down the street.
"As we approached the mosque, several shots landed in the street around us," she said. "We took cover behind a mound of earth.
"Most of the Palestinians around us had run away, but there was a woman with her two children stuck in front of us. I looked up and Tom was moving towards them in his orange vest.
"I imagine he was trying to take them to safety. Then he was shot in the head by a single bullet, I believe from an Israeli watchtower."
The Israeli army said that it could not comment because the incident was still under investigation.
Last month a US activist, Rachel Corrie, 23, was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer.
She too was wearing an orange vest when she knelt in front of the vehicle, but it kept going. The Israeli army is still investigating.
Last week, Brian Avery, 24, another activist from New Mexico, was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers in Jenin.
A spokesman for the International Solidarity Movement - the group which had trained Mr Hurndall in non-violent resistance - alleged that the Israeli army had embarked on a campaign against its activists.
"It now seems like it is open season on international peace activists," he said. "They just want us out so they can get on with their business without international observation."
Mr Hurndall, 21, from Tufnell Park, London, was studying photography at Manchester Metropolitan University. At the end of February he went to Iraq to join the human shields in Baghdad but left before the war.
He arrived in the West Bank on April 4 and completed a training course at ISM's headquarters near Bethlehem.
The ISM has activists operating all over the West Bank and Gaza who come to the region from around the world to try to act as a buffer between the Israeli army and settlers and Palestinians. Their activities range from protecting the olive harvest to escorting children to school. They often work with Israeli human rights groups.
Their presence is a source of annoyance to the Israeli army and they are often arrested and beaten up.
Last November an Irish activist, Ciaomhe Butterly, 23, was shot in the leg in Jenin after talking to soldiers. She was deported.
Palestinians are regularly killed by gunfire in Rafah. It is situated next to the Israeli-controlled border with Egypt, through which Palestinian smugglers attempt to tunnel to import goods and weapons. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are active in the town.
The Israeli army is widening the buffer zone between homes in Rafah and the security fence, a task that has involved the demolition of hundreds of homes.
According to Tom Wallace of the ISM, Mr Hurndall was part of a group of activists on their way to set up a tent by a mosque in the Jibna area of Rafah. On Thursday morning, two brothers aged 19 and 15 had been shot by Israeli soldiers as they approached the mosque.
Mr Wallace said the activists wanted to "challenge the army's nighttime terrorism". "In addition to preventing sporadic shooting, the activists hope to help the residents of Jibna to pray in peace," he said.
Raphael Cohen, 37, a computer programmer from London who lives in Cairo, said he had met Mr Hurndall recently.
"He is a fantastic person and a very passionate photographer," Mr Cohen said.
"He was documenting the daily life of Rafah, not just the bad stuff.
"He was very excited about being in Rafah. He came here to help people and that is what he was doing every day."
add a comment on this article
add a comment on this article