Tom Hurndall passed away on January 13 2004. He was barely 22 years old. In fact, Tom had already ceased to live the life of an enterprising and passionate young man since April 11 2003 when an Israeli soldier aimed and shot him in the head, with the sole objective of killing him, otherwise he would have aimed for his lower body.
His assassination took place at Jebna, a poverty-stricken area of the Rafah refugees camp - the place where the most suffering in Palestine occurs - when all he wanted to do, along with his ISM colleagues, was protect the children from the abuse of the Israeli army.
Tom was a simple man. A photographer who wanted to bring the attention of the world upon this apocalyptic universe where Israeli madness had condemned so many. That is why we want to remember Tom. How he selflessly put his life aside to help the victims of the violence that the world chooses to ignore.
When I arrived in the ISM offices on April 12 2003, there were about 15 exhausted internationals all huddled up. No-one dared break the silence. An oppressive silence. Tom’s bleeding body - which his colleagues had baptised "Thomas" since his arrival in Rafah, so as not to confuse him with the other Tom, also British - was the focus of attention.
The events of the previous evening had traumatised everyone. Tom was lying on a hospital bed now. He was still breathing, but deep down everyone knew that their colleague would not wake up again. That was hard to accept. The war, the violence, poignant situations where games were played with people’s lives, had marked their young faces since their arrival in Rafah.
How can you contain this powerful anger that eats away at you? It takes time to sit back in order to digest this barbarism in its purist form that is so incomprehensible.
Everyone would remember these difficult times shared with Tom, where crazy soldiers came from Israel, shooting at Palestinian children and teenagers, for no other reason than to amuse themselves, to take out a Palestinian. Everyone knew that life had no place here in Jebna. But each of them had more or less decided in his heart of hearts that he would not leave. It would be impossible to leave these persecuted people alone. Everyone knew above all that it was essential for Israel who wanted to steal more land than it had already done, to "clean" Jebna, whatever the cost.
When he had to answer the questions of the media, to wash his hands of responsibilty, the military Commander would lie. He basically said Tom was armed, that he fired at the military and ended up being shot in the exchange of fire that followed.
Gentle Tom. It took six months of struggling from Tom’s family to get a public enquiry into his death opened. This admirable family is still fighting today for the defence of the Palestinian people that they have discovered as a result of Tom’s death, are being dehumanised. "We cannot stay silent and allow such people as Tom et Rachel, Brian Avery, Ian Hook and James Miller to become such tragic victims. If we do not stand up and make the Israeli government aware of its actions, there will be no end to these terrible losses in Palestine", Tom’s sister affirmed with indignation.
Why, in 2003, was the decision taken by the Chief of the Israeli miltary to shoot internationals?
We have to put ourselves in the minds of the Israeli military to be able to answer this. They lead a war of destabilisation and mass destruction against the Palestinians. A war accompanied by massacres that are hidden from the rest of the world. The internationals who find themselves in these areas that Israel has targetted for its murderous operations, hinder the army, and are considered as potential enemies to Israel.
Tom the photographer - like the cameraman Miller - wanted to witness these strange operations which drive the soldiers - amongst other things - to kill a certain number of children each day, in order to force their panic-filled parents, having already destroyed their houses, to flee. Israel was the first to be surprised by the endurance of the habitants of Jebna who insisted on remaining on their own patch of land despite the months of continued bombardments and arbitrary executions.
Tom wasn’t killed by coincidence. He denounced the barbarism of the batallions of soldiers sent to Rafah with assault tanks and F16s to lead an insane war against children who resisted with rocks, and who were regularly killed by shells. Tom was one of those people who understood that in the logic of military strategy, a Palestinian child is a time bomb. And that to kill one, to kill dozens each month, is just part of the system. And that was unacceptable for him.
Tom was killed because he got in the way of the Israeli military carrying out their crimes. These internationals who see Palestinians as human beings, are considered by Israel, as enemies of the war, as people to be fought.
Israel wanted to make them flee in terror. The opposite happened.
That’s why, unable to kill them all, Israel the jailer who holds Palestine under lock and key, has multiplied its restrictions in order to filter them and prevent them from entering Palestine. These restrictions destined to isolate the Palestinians, are particularly worrying.
The world has never been aware of the seriousness of the criminal actions taken by Israel to torture the Palestinians and to provoke, through small massacres, their "voluntary" or forced departure. And the leaders of this world have never been so lazy, so deaf or so blind. Jenin, Balata, Naplouse, Rafah, and Tulkarem are tortured towns where to kill is easy, where the soldiers have no conscience and show themselves to be brutal.
They soulessly and involuntarily execute orders which have something to do with this "ethnic cleansing", this "transfer", that started in 1948, that Sharon is obsessed with achieving.
And we, who are lucky enough to live in security, do not have the right to keep this privilege for ourselves.
Translated from French by Dean Thom
ISM: Israeli soldier shoots British ISM activist Tom Hurndall in Gaza
Press Release, International Solidarity Movement, 11 April 2003