A military committee accepted Taysir Hayb’s appeal, and he will be free in one month, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Monday. Hayb shot Tom Hurndall, who died aged 22, during an incident on Gaza’s southern border.
UK peace activist Thomas Hurndall, age 21, was shot dead in Gaza on April 2003
Early release for soldier who killed British activist
Ma'an News Agency, 19 July 2010
An Israeli soldier convicted of shooting dead a British peace activist has been granted an early release from prison, the Israeli press reported Monday.
A military committee accepted Taysir Hayb’s appeal, and he will be free in one month, the Israeli news site Ynet reported Monday.
Hayb shot Tom Hurndall, who died aged 22, during an incident on Gaza’s southern border.
Witnesses reported that the British citizen was watching children play on a street in Rafah when Israeli soldiers opened fire. Most of the children fled, but three, aged between four and seven, were paralyzed by fear.
Hurndall took one of the children to safety and was returning for the two others when Hayb shot him in his forehead.
After a two hour delay at the border, Hurndall was taken to hospital, where he remained in a coma until his death nine months later.
Hayb, an award-winning marksman, faced court after intense pressure from the British government and Hurndall’s parents and in his initial testimony, claimed that he had aimed four inches from Hurndall’s head but missed.
He also claimed Hurndall was wearing military fatigues, although photographic evidence showed he was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket to show he was a foreigner.
The soldier later changed his testimony and "admitted to firing in proximity to an unarmed civilian as a deterrent,” an Israeli army statement at the time said.
An Israeli military court convicted Hayb in 2005 and sentenced him to eight years in prison. During the trial, Hayb said that a policy of shooting unarmed civilians existed at the time.
Hurndall’s killing came one month after US activist Rachel Corrie was killed by a military bulldozer as she tried to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah, and one month later British journalist James Miller was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in the same area.
A British inquest in 2006 found Hurndall was intentionally killed. “Make no mistake about it, the Israeli defense force have today been found culpable by this jury of murder,” the family’s lawyer Michael Mansfield said after the hearing.
In his appeal for early release, Hayb told the committee he is engaged and wishes to start a family, Ynet reported.
In journals released by Hurndall’s family since his death, the young photographer wrote, “I want to be proud of myself. I want more. I want to look up to myself and when I die, I want to smile because of the things I have done, not cry for the things I haven't done.”
from the archives:
"Not again": Eyewitness Joe Smith writes about the shooting of Tom Hurndall
by Joe Smith, The Electronic Intifada, 12 April 2003
Please not again. We heard the shooting -- we always hear shooting -- but repeated sniper fire like that is especially disturbing. I heard the shot, I heard a scream, and turned to see the fluorescent orange lump lying on the ground, blood coming from his head. I moved back and forth a bit not knowing what to do, and within seconds my medical training clicked in. The Palestinians lifted him to move him from the area. "Set him down!" Alice, the other medic, and I screamed.
Finally we got him down on the pavement, I had my safety pads out and was trying to stop the bleeding. One doesn't consider rubber gloves at times like these. Blood was poring out of the back of his head. I couldn't get it to stop. Seconds later he was lifted again and pulled into a taxi. "Wait for the ambulance!" We tried to convince them, but they were hysterical, and he was torn away from us and rushed to the hospital in a brown Mercedes. The ambulance arrived on the scene minutes later, but it was too late, he was gone.
I looked down to find the bloody safety pad still in my hand. I had a brief instinct to throw it down, like one does any trash on these streets, but was unable to let go of it. I held onto it while in the taxi on the way to the hospital, and still clutched it as I slouched on the ground against the stone walls surrounding his operation room.
He was dead for me from the moment he was set on the ground for us to administer treatment. Alice tried to do mouth to mouth, and I thought it pointless. He was dead for me when he was pulled from our hands and put into the car. Even when he was wheeled out of Al-Najjar Hospital and taken to Europa Hospital in Khan Younis, he was still not alive in my mind.
Now he's on life support in Saroka Hospital in B'ersheva, brain dead but still breathing. No matter how constantly his heart still beats, I continue to speak of him in the past. It took me awhile to accept that Rachel was actually gone, and I think my mind is compensating for that loss by preparing itself for another in advance.
His name was Thomas Hurndall and he was from London. When he arrived, we already had an English guy named Tom so he chose the nickname "Tab", and that is how I knew him. Tab was incredibly passionate about protecting people when and where they needed it most. We were in Yibna, a Rafah refugee camp right on the Egyptian border, because he was aware of the constant Israeli gunfire to which this neighbourhood is victim every day.
He'd learned about the two brothers who'd been shot the previous morning, and was dedicated to maintaining a presence there. He said that he'd gotten extremely angry and determined after listening to gunfire while lying in his bed at the doctor's house Rachel died protecting. He wanted to be in the most dangerous areas, not out of some martyr complex to die but simply because he knew that that is where internationals are most needed.
He was prepared to stay in the house most targeted, and helped us hang large banners on it. He was all about placing a tent in an area in front of a mosque, used every night by an Israeli tank for terrorizing the neighborhood with gunfire. We were on our way to pitch the tent the day he was shot, but had abandoned the project due to the Palestinians' discomfort with the level of gunfire.
The tank was already in its parking spot when we arrived, and was shooting into the area. A nearby security tower had also joined in, and was firing the scary sniper shots. We were positioned behind a large roadblock deciding what to do, and Laura had gone forward with some Palestinians to take a look. She was wearing our trademarked florescent orange jacket with reflective stripes, and was clearly an international.
Despite, or possibly because of this they shot around her. She said that shots were being fired on both sides of her, making it rather difficult for her to move. She had just rejoined us, when the sniper fire from the tower turned onto the roadblock behind which we were standing. There were children playing on the roadblock, as they often do, and many scattered due to the gunfire.
There was one boy, however, that Tab noticed was too frightened to move. Instinctually, he quickly removed him from the area, as he observed shots land around the small and fragile innocent. After successfully evacuating him, he was about to leave when he noticed two small girls down in front of the roadblock, right in the line of fire.
He was going to help them escape when the Israeli soldier in the tower took his aim, and fired a large calibre sniper bullet directly into Tab's head. He was in full view of the tower, and like Laura was wearing the high visibility gear. Our embassies had been informed of our presence in the area, and they had informed the Israeli military.
They knew who he was, they knew what he was, and they knew what he was doing. They knew that he was no threat to their physical safety, but they likely understood the international attention his presence was attracting, and knew how our human shield work had prevented them from adequately terrorizing the Palestinian civilians and demolishing their homes.
In this way, he was a "threat" to them, a threat to the image of Israel it portrays to the world. He was a threat to the validity of the occupation, and a threat to their unquestioned notion of these people as nothing but inhuman terrorists. The sniper couldn't tolerate this kind of challenge, and took lethal measures to end it. We'll only have to see how such an act will backfire.
I didn't know Tab all that well. He'd only been here a week, but planned to stay the full month of his visa. He'd just spent a week doing refugee work in Jordan, before which he'd spent two weeks in Iraq doing human shield and relief work. He was a brilliant photographer, and was passionate about documenting the immense human rights violations being perpetrated on the Arab people.
It was his first trip to the Middle East, but his previous three weeks had made him rather well-versed in this type of work. He was mature and laid back about it all, but incredibly passionate and determined. I was quite surprised to learn that he was only 21 years old, born the same year as I.
I had spent a few hours that day taking him around Rafah to take pictures. We were trying to compile photo images of the city and our presence here for documentation and publicity purposes. The children here love a camera, and would crowd us endlessly. This bothers and overwhelms most people, but Tab thought it a little funny, and would chuckle at the rambunctious children shouting "What's you're name" and "How are you". He mentioned that he'd learned some tricks already, like not pulling out his camera until the absolute last minute.
We had even had a conversation that day about the dangers of this place, and how none of us really understood them or we wouldn't be here. I said that I still felt confident with my international status even after the recent violence against us. I believed that it was not a calculated targeting of internationals, just an increased amount of recklessness and hostility brought on by the increased effectiveness of our work. I said I wouldn't really be intimidated until they openly target an obvious international. Not until they very intentionally kill one of us would I feel the terror experienced by Palestinians. Fate works in mysterious ways.
I don't know if I can stay here now. I believe that internationals need to stay here, and that the Israeli military should not learn that they can intimidate ISM with such violence. I believe that it only shows how effective our work has become, and that now is the time to stay and establish an even stronger presence.
But I only have so much energy left. Rachel's death took a lot out of me, but also inspired me to stay longer and throw myself into the Olympia Sister City project and nonviolent direct action against the Israeli occupation of Rafah. I had planned to stay through the end of May to accomplish these goals, and knew that I had at least that left in me. But this incident has aged me quickly, and makes me question if I can now handle this place and this type of work.
Who knows what's going to happen to him now. It seems likely that his family will have to make that dreaded decision about whether or not to take him off life support. I have to leave here if he dies, I can't do the whole shahid thing again. I also cannot participate in another military investigation. There were plenty of Palestinian and international witnesses willing to cooperate.
I'll continue media and legal work regarding Rachel's death, but I can't handle two. I just can't. Learning my limits has been a crucial part of my personal development here. I have learned to say "no", and I'm saying it now. This statement may be used for any media or legal processes, but that's it, khallas!
What a privilege it is for me to be able to say that. How lucky I am that I can just leave when I've had enough, and catalogue the event in my mental register of intense experiences. I can only leave on the condition that I return with a longer-term commitment, as my solidarity with these amazing people has only just begun.
* Joe Smith is an American activist from Kansas City, Missouri, based with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah, occupied Gaza. He was a friend of Rachel Corrie's and was with her when she was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003.