Activist was unlawfully killed in Israel, says inquest jury

"April 6 2003. I have been shot at, gassed, chased by soldiers, had sound grenades thrown within metres of me, been hit by falling debris and been in the way of a 10-tonne D-9 that didn't stop. As we approached, I kept expecting a part of my body to be hit by an 'invisible' force and shot of pain. It took a huge amoung of will to continue. I wondered what it would be like to be shot, and strangely I wasn't too scared. It is strange to know that each night people are shot and killed for breaking military curfew, and in the darkness on the north west side there is an Israeli settlement and a few hundred metres away with military snipers in between and any one of the four of us could be being watched through a sniper's sights at this moment. The certainty is that they are watching, and it is in the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler that my life depends. I know that I'd probably never know what hit me, but it's part of the job to be as visible as possible." Five days after he wrote these words, Tom Hurndall was shot by Israeli forces and later died.
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The Attorney General was called upon to consider the prosecution of five senior Israeli officers after an inquest jury found that a British student had been murdered by one of their soldiers.

In a rare move, the coroner, Andrew Reid, concluded the inquest into Tom Hurndall's death by revealing that he would write to Lord Goldsmith to explore further legal action relating to the 22-year-old's death.

Mr Hurndall ­ a photojournalism student who travelled to Gaza along with a group of peace activists ­ was trying to save children from a volley of bullets when he was hit in the head in April 2003. He never recovered consciousness and died nine months later in a hospital in London.

Three weeks after the shooting, the British cameraman James Miller, 34, was shot dead by another soldier from the same unit just a mile away.

While an Israeli soldier was eventually convicted in Israel of manslaughter in Mr Hurndall's case after a protracted fight by his family, the jury at St Pancras Coroner's Court took it a step further and decided unanimously that he had been killed unlawfully and intentionally.

Dr Reid added that he had written to Lord Goldsmith: "On the basis that, although an individual has been prosecuted, there are wider issues.'' The Government, he said, had an obligation to protect British citizens from being killed in similar circumstances.

The legal option available to Mr Hurndall's family include the Attorney General authorising an extradition request under the Geneva Convention to try the five men in a British court for alleged war crimes. He could also pursue a war crimes prosecution in the International Criminal Court.

In an eerie premonition of the fate that awaited him, Mr Hurndall wrote in his diary upon arrival in Rafah days earlier of the horror that greeted him, including the regular shootings, gassings and use of sound grenades by troops.

"The certainty is that they are watching and it is on the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler that my life depends. I know that I'd probably never know what hit me, but it's part of the job to be as visible as possible," he wrote. His last words to a young Palestinian man were that he and his fellow activists from the International Solidarity Movement, "wanted to do something to make a difference''.

On 11 April 2003, just hours after two Palestinian teenagers were shot and killed for no apparent reason, the activists were trying to set up a tent to block the Israeli tanks when shots rang out from a watchtower.

A group of children playing nearby scattered, but three froze in fear. Mr Hurndall rescued a five-year-old boy before running back for two little girls. As he bent down to pick one up, he was hit in the head. He died days before his 21st birthday.

The inquest yesterday saw graphic footage of the young man wearing a high visibility orange top being carried away, bleeding heavily, by panicked colleagues. The jury heard that, as Mr Hurndall's family from north London dealt with constant obstruction and deception by the Israeli authorities, they were "astonished and shocked'' not to receive any high-profile support from either Tony Blair or the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. It fell to his father, Anthony Hurndall, to piece together the events of that day which contradicted the original assertion that the Israel Defence Force had fired at a Palestinian gunman in camouflage. At one point, in an armoured convoy with British embassy officials, the family were shot at themselves, said his mother, Jocelyn.

After several months, Sergeant Taysir Hayb conceded that he had fired at Mr Hurndall, but insisted he had aimed 10cm away. He admitted that he had only sought permission to fire after hitting Mr Hurndall and was later convicted of manslaughter and obstruction of justice and sentenced to eight years. But he told the court he was acting under orders. Mr Hurndall Snr said: " Our view is this soldier was doing no more than what was expected of him. It has become very clear to me that shooting civilians was a regular army activity in that area."

The Israeli authorities refused to co-operate with the inquest and Mr Hurndall said those higher up the command ­ including Generals Jiora Eiland and Doron Almog, as well as a colonel, deputy brigadier- general and captain ­ should be held accountable.

Michael Mansfield QC, on behalf of the family, said yesterday the British Government should pressure the Israelis to prosecute the senior officers, seek extradition or a European arrest warrant. It was only through the family's "harrowing struggle", he said, that the rare prosecution of the junior soldier had been achieved.

He continued: "It is about time a few demands were made of the Israeli government. It is time the Government complies with its own obligations and at least states to this family and the Miller family that they are considering instigating proceedings under the act [Geneva Convention] which is part of our domestic legislation. This is exactly the sort of case they should be using it for and they have done nothing about it."

Another British inquest ruled last week that cameraman James Miller, 34, had been murdered by an Israeli soldier. He was gunned down while making a documentary about the impact of the conflict on Palestinian children in the Rafah refugee camp in May 2003. Last December, an inquest found that Briton Ian Hook, who was leading a UN reconstruction programme in the Jenin refugee camp, was a victim of a "deliberate killing"in November 2002.

Tom Hurndall arrived in Rafah after hearing of the death of Rachel Corrie, an American peacekeeper. She died on 17 March 2003 from injuries caused by an Israeli army bulldozer while she was trying to stop the Rafah refugee camp being demolished. Mr Hurndall Snr: "We have achieved a great deal more than anyone expected and I don't see why we should not achieve more."

A tragedy unfolds

* 11 APRIL 2003

Tom Hurndall, a journalist, is shot in the head as he tries to move Palestinian children out of line of fire of Israeli gunmen in Rafah

* 12 APRIL 2003

His parents fly to Israel to be by his side in hospital in Beer Sheva, where he is being kept alive only by a ventilator. A brain scan shows the bullet that entered Mr Hurndall's head left hundreds of particles of shrapnel

* 29 MAY 2003

He is flown from Israel to the UK and transferred to a London hospital, still stays in a coma

* 17 JUNE 2003

His parents meet Jack Straw and demand the soldier who shot their son be prosecuted. They also hand the Foreign Secretary two reports on the killing

* 13 JANUARY 2004

Tom Hurndall dies at a hospital in Putney, south-west London, after contracting pneumonia

* 16 JANUARY 2004

The Westminster Coroner Paul Knapman orders a police investigation into Hurndall's death

* 11 APRIL 2004

Israeli army charges Sergeant Taysir Hayb, an accomplished shot, with intent to cause injury in relation's to Hurndall's death. The charge is later upgraded to manslaughter

* 10 MAY 2004

The trial against Hayb opens at a military base in Israel. Hurndall's mother Jocelyn is present to hear the opening speeches. It is adjourned for nine days

* 20 DECEMBER 2004

A US peace activist tells the trial how he saw Hurndall shot. Joseph Carr, 23, said: "Tom moved into the area to evacuate the children. I looked away and heard a shot and a scream, and saw him on the ground with blood coming from his head."

* JUNE 2005

An Israeli miltary court convicts Sgt Hayb of Hurndall's manslaughter. He denied the charge and said he was made a scapegoat by the Israeli army

* 11 AUGUST 2005

Hayb is jailed for eight years for the death of Tom Hurndall

* 10 APRIL 2006

A British inquest jury rules Tom Hurndall was deliberately murdered. His parents call on the Government to take further action. His father says he has not lost hope of justice.