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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Peace activists remain undaunted
Tom Hurndall
Tom Hurndall died 10 months after being shot
A play based on the diaries of British peace activist Tom Hurndall is to be broadcast by the BBC.

Mr Hurndall was shot in April 2003 while working with children in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, and died after spending 10 months in a coma.

An Israeli soldier has been indicted on charges relating to the shooting, including one of aggravated assault.

Mr Hurndall had been working closely with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) - a Palestinian-led group which campaigns against the Israeli occupation using non-violence.

The play reveals an idealistic young man, determined to help others despite the risk to his own safety.

But what is the motivation for Mr Hurndall's fellow peace activists - who continue to travel from Europe and the US to the Middle East - and what do they hope to achieve?

'Indiscriminate'

Jo Wilding is a British student who, like Mr Hurndall, has worked as a peace activist in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

She helped medical staff in the Iraqi city of Falluja recover the wounded and dead during the American assault on the town in April 2004, and was briefly detained by militant groups there.

We can go places that journalists in the corporate media are unable or unwilling to go
Saima, a British ISM activist

"I knew too much about what was happening in Iraq and the Palestinian territories to ignore it any longer", she says of her decision to travel to the region.

Peace activists believe that they can have an impact by physically accompanying Palestinians or Iraqis in the hope that the presence of a Westerner will make soldiers think twice about shooting.

Ms Wilding feels she helped protect hospital workers in Falluja.

"The American troops were often pleased to see us. We look like them and speak English so they were less likely to shoot at us and the medical staff we were with because they felt we could be their brother or sister."

"At night, however, the shooting was indiscriminate,", she adds.

Solidarity

In addition to physical direct action, peace activists also believe that by spreading the stories of ordinary people caught up in conflict, they can influence international opinion on the situation there.

"We can go places that journalists in the corporate media are unable or unwilling to go," says Saima, a British ISM activist currently working in the West Bank town of Nablus.

"Palestinians are always saying to us: 'Tell people what you have seen here,' " she adds.

Palestinians and peace activists protest near Jerusalem
International peace activists have joined protests against Israel's West Bank security barrier

Showing solidarity is another factor that encourages many to travel.

"People felt so isolated in Iraq during the period of sanctions," says Ms Wilding, "I wanted to make contact with students there.

"People were so friendly, even when their house had just been bombed by a coalition plane, they still invited us for tea."

'Naive'

ISM runs training courses in an attempt to make volunteers aware of the dangers of working in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"Safety is our main priority", says ISM spokeswoman Sherrin, "but we cannot guarantee it."

Mr Hurndall's death and that of American Rachel Corrie have made activists increasingly aware of the risk they are taking.

"I don't feel comfortable," says Saima of her work as an activist. "I'm nervous and afraid - but I have to face that fear."

The Israeli authorities view the peace activists as troublemakers interfering with military operations against Palestinian militants in the West Bank.

"We see them as dangerously naive. Their activity is irresponsible and puts not only their own lives but those of Israeli soldiers and others in danger," an Israeli government spokesman told the BBC.

"They operate in restricted military areas and ignore our warnings for them to leave. The army has been lenient with them and the result has been dangerous and tragic."

Israel has moved to curtail ISM activities by attempting to prevent their entry to the Palestinian territories, and by arresting and deporting activists.

Despite this, ISM says that the numbers willing to follow in Mr Hurndall's footsteps and travel to the occupied Palestinian territories are rising.

Sharp Focus - based on Tom Hurndall's diaries - is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 8 October at 2102 BST




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