Fighting for life: American peace activist shot by Israelis

Parents demand inquiry into how son was critically injured by tear gas canister

The parents of an American peace activist publicly appealed yesterday for a full investigation into how their son was shot in the head with a high velocity tear gas canister by Israeli security forces.

Tristan Anderson, 38, remains in critical condition after three brain operations at Tel Hashomer hospital in Israel, as a result of the shooting which came at the end of a regular joint Arab-Jewish demonstration against the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank village of Ni'lin.

Activists say the canister round – with a range of more than 400 metres – was fired directly at Mr Anderson from about 60 metres as he was standing with three or four other activists in the centre of the village. They say he was well away from the barrier where the main protest had taken place earlier on 13 March.

Mr Anderson suffered a multiple fracture to his skull, severe injury to the frontal lobe of his brain, and a collapsed eye socket

The peace activists insist that neither Mr Anderson, nor his immediate companions, were throwing stones or posing any threat to the forces.

Mr Anderson's mother. Nancy, who flew from California with her husband Michael to be at her son's bedside, said yesterday that to fire at peace protesters was "really horrifying".

She said that tear gas canisters are designed to be fired in an arc to disperse demonstrators, but that the canister had been "shot right at his head".

"We want the Israeli government to publicly take full responsibility for the shooting of our son," she said.

"I don't carry any negative feelings towards the soldier who shot our son. All I feel is love for Tristan and fear for his recovery."

Mrs Anderson praised the "excellent" care by medics at Tel Hashomer.

Mr Anderson, who had a seasonal job in Oakland California working for a trade union setting up conventions, was in Israel for the first time.

He was with his Jewish girlfriend on a three-month trip, after which he intended to join his parents on a holiday in Europe. He had taken part in peace demonstrations in Iraq before the US invasion in 2003, and in El Salvador and Guatemala.

"He came to understand for himself what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was about," said Michael Anderson, his father. "It is ironic that the country in which he was shot is a democracy where it is supposed to be a duty for everyone to follow their conscience.

"We want to know what happened and we want justice for our son."

Jonathan Pollack, an activist with the Israeli "Anarchists against the Wall" organisation said the incident had taken place about one kilometre from the barrier after demonstrators had started to disperse. While stones had been thrown earlier during the protest, Mr Pollack, who first met Mr Anderson at a demonstration in Prague during the World Bank-IMF conference in 2000, said: "I have known Tristan for nine years and I know he was not throwing stones at that point or any other point."

The activists say the gas canister, of a kind brought into service only four months ago, was labelled in Hebrew "40mm bullet special/long range."

Four Palestinian residents of Ni'lin – including a 10-year-old boy – were killed during demonstrations last year against the barrier, which will divide villagers from 400 acres of their farmland, when it is complete.

Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer, who has filed a formal demand for an official investigation, said that of some 120 criminal investigations brought against security force members since the beginning of the intifada, there had only been one conviction – against the Arab-Israeli soldier who shot British peace activist Tom Hurndall dead in Gaza.

Nobody was brought to trial in two other cases involving the deaths of foreign nationals. They were Rachel Corrie, who like Mr Hurndall was an International Solidarity Movement volunteer. The Israeli military has not accepted responsibility for her death. In the case of British film-maker James Miller, Israeli authorities made a substantial cash payment to his family this year, which came nearly six years after his death.

The Israeli military said that on the day Mr Anderson was shot, some 400 rioters, “some masked”, had thrown “a massive number of rocks” at their forces. They said protesters had thrown firebombs, and directed burning tyres towards the forces, and that 73 personnel were injured in 2008 at or near Ni’lin. A spokesman said: “The violent acts of the protesters force Israeli police officers and soldiers to use internationally acceptable riot dispersal means.”

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