Peace activist dies after nine months in coma

By Terri Judd
Thursday 15 January 2004 01:00

Even though Tom Hurndall's family had come to terms with the knowledge he would never wake from his coma, the end, when it came, was still a shocking blow.

Nine months after the 22-year-old peace activist was brought home in a persistent vegetative state, after being shot in the head by an Israeli soldier as he tried to help trapped Palestinian children out of the line of fire, pneumonia claimed his life on Tuesday.

Carl Arrindell, a family friend, said yesterday: "They are just trying to cope with the knowledge that Tom has gone; that they have to draw a line. They are in shock."

Only hours earlier, it was Mr Arrindell who broke the news that an Israeli soldier had finally been indicted with six charges, including aggravated assault, in a rare prosecution.

Yesterday, as the Israeli authorities confirmed that charge may now be increased to manslaughter, the family insisted they would settle for nothing less than a conviction for murder.

Mr Arrindell said: "We don't want manslaughter. He knew what he was doing. The evidence is overwhelming. The lawyers will be pressing the authorities to charge him with murder. The family want the maximum penalty and nothing else. And then we would seek damages so a message is sent out to every other soldier in the occupied territories that if they shoot innocent people they will be punished."

But lawyers for the soldier of the Israeli Defence Forces, who has admitted shooting at Mr Hurndall "as a deterrent" even though he was unarmed, insist he is being "hung out to dry" by the army. They said he cannot be accused of the intent required for murder, Mr Arrindell explained.

He said: "His argument is that he didn't care. He was not bothered. He didn't intend to kill, he just didn't give a monkeys. He was just shooting at children to amuse himself and then aimed at Tom and shot him through the forehead. It is absolutely horrifying."

Mr Hurndall had travelled to the city of Rafah in southern Gaza to work with the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group of volunteers, which serves as a buffer between its people and the soldiers.

The Manchester Metropolitan University photo journalism student was hit by a single bullet fired from a nearby watchtower on 11 April, as he helped to set up a "peace tent" to stop a tank entering the Yibna and went to help some children.

Since bringing his body home in May, Anthony, his father, a lawyer, and Jocelyn, his mother, a teacher, have spent every waking hour either maintaining a vigil at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney or pressing for justice after carrying out their own investigation.

They learned on Tuesday that the soldier - who has not been named by the Israeli army but simply described as a Bedouin Arab - had been charged with assault as well as obstruction of justice after initially claiming Tom Hurndall was armed. A second soldier has been detained, accused of corroborating his account.

Mr Arrindell said last night: "This is not about one soldier; it is about a culture which clearly exists there. Day in, day out, they are shooting at innocent people and they are not being challenged."

The Israeli embassy said yesterday: "The Israeli government views this tragic event with the utmost severity, and is acting to ensure that justice is served."

Baroness Symons, the Foreign Office minister, said her office would "continue to urge the Israeli authorities to pursue their investigations thoroughly".

Tom Hurndall died at 7.45pm on Tuesday. Sophie, his sister, said yesterday: "We have to finally accept we are not going to have Tom back."

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