LONDON, 15 January 2004 — A British man shot through the head by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip has died after nine months in a vegetative state, his sister said yesterday.
Tom Hurndall, a 22-year-old university student, was shot in the head on April 11 while with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a pro-Palestinian group whose activists volunteer to serve as buffers between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.
His family said they hoped that a soldier accused of shooting Hurndall would now be charged with murder.
“The family believes that... he shot Tom using an advanced telescopic lens (and) it is improbable that the shot which entered Tom’s forehead was intended to do anything other than kill,” said Carl Arrindell, a spokesman for the Hurndall family.
Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner expressed regret for the death. “We take this matter very seriously. We regret it very much,” he said. “And Israel will take every step necessary and every measure necessary to see that those kind of occurrences do not happen again.” Asked whether the soldier would face murder charges, Pazner replied, “We are definitely inquiring into this case.”
The Israeli Embassy in London said it was “deeply sorry” to learn of Hurndall’s death.
Hurndall died Tuesday after contracting pneumonia, his sister told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. He had been on life support at London’s Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability.
“My mum was there with Tom,” Sophie Hurndall told the BBC. “She’d just popped out of the room for 10 minutes and she got a call on her mobile saying that Tom had passed away.” On Monday, Israel’s military prosecutor filed a six-count indictment against an Israeli soldier that included a clause for intent to cause injury to Hurndall. The soldier was not named. Israeli military sources said yesterday the prosecutor was considering amending the indictment to manslaughter following Hurndall’s death.
Sophie Hurndall said she was relieved her brother’s ordeal was over.
“Quite frankly I’m surprised that Tom lasted a night with the severity of the wounds that he had,” she said. “When Tom was shot he was missing a large part of his brain.”
Hurndall was shot in the Rafah refugee camp where he had been photographing the work of the ISM. Witnesses said he had tried to help children out of the path of an Israeli tank when the shot was fired.
After he was airlifted home, the Israeli Defense Ministry sent a check to his family to help defray the repatriation costs. Arrindell said the check, worth about 8,300 pounds ($14,000), was returned by the bank due to insufficient funds in November, but cleared several weeks later.
Israeli officials have denounced the ISM as agitators who are putting their lives at risk in a war situation. On March 16, an American member of ISM was killed when she was run over by a military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip, near where Hurndall was shot. Israeli authorities have arrested and deported a number of members of the group.
In more than three years of violence, the Israeli military has arrested only a handful of soldiers for harming Palestinians or foreigners.