Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Wednesday January 14, 2004
A British peace activist who was shot by an Israeli soldier as he tried to protect Palestinian children from gunfire in a Gaza refugee camp died last night in a London hospital.
Tom Hurndall succumbed to pneumonia. He had been left in a persistent vegetative state after being hit by a bullet at the Rafah camp in April.
The 22-year-old died hours after the soldier who shot him was charged with aggravated assault in a rare prosecution of a member of the Israeli military for harming a civilian.
But the military judge handling the case told the family's lawyer in Tel Aviv that the charge was likely to be revised to murder or manslaughter after Mr Hurndall's death.
The soldier, who has not been named, has also been charged with obstruction of justice for first shooting the activist through the forehead and only afterwards seeking permission from his commander to kill Mr Hurndall on the fabricated grounds that he was carrying a gun.
A second soldier is under arrest for allegedly corroborating that account.
After Mr Hurndall's condition began rapidly deteriorating, his mother Jocelyn was constantly at his bedside. A spokesman for the family, Carl Arrindel, said the family was devastated but drew some comfort at being relieved from making a decision about seeking a court order to curtail Tom's life support, since there had been almost no hope of his making a recovery.
Mrs Hurndall welcomed the charges against the soldier. The indictment followed months of lobbying by the family and the Foreign Office for a thorough investigation after the army initially said there was no case to answer.
"I'll be satisfied with nothing less than the most serious penalty for the soldier ... and for all those up the chain of command who were responsible for trying to stop the truth coming out," Mrs Hurndall said at the time. She had maintained that the accused soldier should face the more serious charge of attempted murder because he had been using a telescopic sight and had aimed to kill her son.
It is rare for Israeli soldiers to face criminal charges for shooting civilians in the occupied territories, even though many of the hundreds who have died during the intifada were killed in suspicious circumstances. Just 10 soldiers have been indicted and none convicted to date.
The Israeli military has revealed that the accused soldier is an Arab member of a Bedouin unit and that he is facing separate charges of smoking cannabis on duty.
This has led the soldier's lawyer to accuse the army of "hanging him out to dry" and has raised suspicions within the Hurndall family that the authorities intend to pin all responsibility for the shooting on him rather than examine the "culture of impunity" surrounding the killing of civilians inside the occupied territories.
"We hope that prosecution of the soldier involved in the shooting of Tom will send a message to all soldiers in the occupied territories that they cannot commit breaches of human rights whether these be killing, maiming, humiliation, the destruction of homes or the collective punishment of whole communities," Mrs Hurndall said.
"But I am extremely sceptical at the way the Israeli army has chosen to highlight certain facts about this particular soldier - that he had previously been arrested for smoking cannabis and is an Arab.
"This is a complete irrelevance and a deflection from the culture of impunity that is encouraged right along the chain of command right to the very top."
"Israeli soldier faces manslaughter charge over Briton's death"