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Last Updated: Monday, 10 April 2006, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
Gunned down 'protecting others'
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News

Tom Hurndall
Tom Hurndall travelled to the Gaza Strip to act as a human shield

The inquest into the death of a Briton shot dead by an Israeli soldier has ruled he was "intentionally killed". But the verdict is unlikely to quell the debate about who was to blame.

Tom Hurndall, a 22-year-old journalism and photography student, was one of a small group of westerners so opposed to the war in Iraq that they travelled to the Gulf in the spring of 2003 to act as human shields.

But the London-born activist quickly decided Saddam Hussein's regime was manipulating the shields to protect military installations.

He crossed the border into Jordan and from there entered the Gaza Strip, again to act as a human shield with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

Days later he was hit in the forehead by a bullet, fell into a coma and died nine months afterwards in January 2004.

Haunting memory

His fellow human shields are still haunted by the moment on 11 April 2003 when he was shot.

Mohammed Qeshta, a Palestinian activist with ISM, said members of the group were on their way to erect a tent to hinder access by Israeli tanks to populated areas around the Rafah refugee camp.

"We were very clearly dressed in orange clothes and jackets and Tom was clearly visible," he said.

Three bullets were fired from the same watchtower about 150 or 200 metres away - we saw Tom falling on his knees
International Solidarity Movement activist Mohammed Qeshta

"Gunfire hit the street and the walls and the doors. Everyone took shelter except three children who were stuck not knowing where to go and were screaming.

"[Tom] ran to the children and grabbed a little boy and brought him to safety, but there were another two girls he had to bring.

"Three bullets were fired from the same watch tower about 150 or 200 metres away. We saw Tom falling on his knees.

"We ran to move him. There was a small hole in the front of his head and a really huge hole in the back of his head."

Mr Qeshta added: "It was very sunny and very light so there's no chance the soldier who shot Tom would have missed him or mistaken the target."

Sophie Hurndall holds a picture of her dead brother
There are thousands of cases out there where people don't have the weight behind them that we have
Sophie Hurndall
The Hurndall family feels the trial, in Castina military court in Ashkelon, has been about pinning all blame on Taysir Hayb, a Bedouin ex-sergeant in the Israeli Defence Force convicted of manslaughter charges last year.

Mr Hurndall's sister Sophie believes senior officers all the way up to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are responsible for a culture within the Israeli Defence Force that effectively allows the killing of civilians.

"We have got very mixed feelings. From one perspective there is the need to see justice done and for the soldiers to be forced to take responsibility," she said.

"But the soldier was Tom's age; he has been severely brainwashed by the army, by these commanders, encouraging them and actively covering up. It is a culture."

Ms Hurndall also believes the trial has only happened because of pressure from the family, and the fact the victim is a Westerner.

"We have forced the Israeli army to prosecute this soldier, but there are thousands of cases out there where people don't have the weight behind them that we have."

The fact there has been a soldier standing trial is the best example of the seriousness of the process of investigation
Israeli embassy spokeswoman
The Israeli authorities deny accusations they would have rather seen the matter drop, and say there is no policy of tolerating the shooting of civilians.

An Israeli embassy spokeswoman said: "The fact that there has been a soldier standing trial is the best example of the seriousness of the process of investigation.

"It makes no difference which nationality you are from, either Palestinian, Israeli, British, French or American - there is the same law for everyone."

Mr Hurndall's father Anthony has spent hours interviewing witnesses to the April 2003 shooting as well as experts in an effort to catch his son's killer.

His mother and sister also gave up work to drive their campaign for justice, establishing the Tom Hurndall Fund to raise money and awareness.

Scapegoat?

Hayb's defence tried to paint him as a scapegoat, pressured into giving a series of confessions by manipulative officers.

It said the prosecution was relying on these confessions, with the rest of its case sparse and lacking in ballistics or other corroborative evidence.

One of Hayb's advocates, Yariv Ronen, argued there was no line of sight between the tower where his client was stationed and the spot where Mr Hurndall was shot.

He believes the confessions were given by his client under duress.

"He has the minimum intelligence - you can push this guy around, you can make him confess," Mr Ronen said.

One of the key claims, that Hayb told colleagues and commanders that he had shot someone immediately after Tom Hurndall was hit, is dismissed by Mr Ronen.

"Saying to your colleague you shot someone is something you might say once a day. That is the tragic reality in Israel.

"You shoot one or two times a day, you don't know if [the target] was hurt. It is an apocalypse there."


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