Jocelyn Hurndall addresses UNISON Conference

Notes by Frances Kelly
Published: 30/06/04

Jocelyn Hurndall is the mother of Tom Hurndall, the young British photojournalist shot in Rafah, Gaza, in Spring 2003, who went into a coma and eventually died in Jan 2004. She addressed UNISON Conference on 23 June.

Tom was shot while shepherding children to safety, by a soldier armed with an advanced telescopic-sighted rifle at short range. Through his forehead. Ballistic experts say it was undoubtedly a precision shot intended to kill. Yet [after much pressure and campaigning for charges to be brought] the only charge laid is manslaughter.

We have been denied access to the evidence. Including the several-times changed statements by the soldier and his witnesses.

But he claims he was ‘only following orders’. If there is any truth in this it confirms our suspicions that Tom’s killing was only one of a number of cold-blooded killings [in Gaza and the West Bank]. Since the second Intifada began more than 3, 000 non-combatants have died and more than 40, 000 have been permanently injured or disabled. There have been few prosecutions: those that have been made result in trivial punishments - 2 month terms, suspended; minor fines.

The message to the Israeli soldiers is clear: you can kill and injure innocent Palestinians and so-called ‘internationalists’ with impunity.

It must not continue.

Our Government has a historical and moral responsibility.

Yet the Govt invited Shaul Mofaz - an Israeli Minister - here last year although the DPP had asked Scotland Yard to investigate him for war crimes. He was treated as a guest. Ariel Sharon - responsible for the slaughter at Sabra and Shatila of 3, 500 civilians - was a guest at Downing St.

The Govt abstains over votes or at best makes feeble protests over the illegal inhuman Wall.

Men, women and children are gunned down in cold blood...

Sales of Arms and components to Israel continue - despite officially-expressed concerns at the occupation. Despite the acknowledged breach of the UK conditions of sale. They state they’ve been ‘factored into’ export licensing rules.

Jack Straw overruled attempts [by the British Diplomatic service] to limit these sales.

The Palestinian Prime Minister graciously asked to meet us to directly pass on his condolences. He said that Tom Hurndall represented the true conscience of Britain. To date we have yet to be granted a meeting with our own Prime Minister or hear private or public condemnation of Tom’s murder. Instead there is tacit approval of Israel’s policies.

Last month the world watched in horror as the Israeli Defence Force fired on a peaceful demo protesting at the destruction of Rafah. 55 dead. Collective punishment of the town [for resistance]. One of the witnesses to Tom’s death wrote of the crude killing of 8 of his friends, after he’d taken his Mother, unconscious, to hospital during an Israeli attack.

Palestinian anger in Rafah has been fuelled by the rising number of civilian casualties at the hands of the Israelis, particularly from rocket strikes. Anees Mansoor’s home was among those hit by the Apache helicopter attacks.

“I saw my mother unconscious,” he said. “I took her to the hospital. When I went back to my house, my friends told me, ‘Anees get your stuff from home and leave’. Then the electricity cut out in Rafah and the shooting started from everywhere.”

As he fled his home Mr Mansoor began looking for the two friends he had agreed to meet. “I saw them next to the supermarket in Elmo’aken street and then I saw the Apache fire a rocket at the street,” he said. “I ran to see what had happened to them but I couldn’t find them. There was nothing left of their faces. I just saw some hands here, some heads there.

“I can’t believe I saw my friends die.”

from Israeli troops die as refugee homes are destroyed
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
The Guardian
May 15, 2004

[Anees wrote to us] “I last saw them in the Supermarket as a bomb blew them apart - I couldn’t find them, only hands here, heads there. I tried to pick them up (to bury them) but I wasn’t strong enough. I fainted. When I came round I couldn’t move normally. I am afraid and worried. Where is justice? Where are people from the outside world?” [Jocelyn read out the young men’s names and their ages 18, 19, 18...] [note that British or American deaths get named - Palestinians are usually just ‘palestinians’ not named people in the media].

What about them? Palestinians, 3 British MPs who last week, like ourselves last year [after Tom was shot], were shot at when they tried to visit the site where Tom was shot and lay flowers. They (and we) were in plated marked Diplomatic Vehicles. If they are happy to shoot at us, then what price the safety of innocent civilians of Rafah?

The UK/US are equally guilty at not getting off the fence. If they won’t listen to me, what about the words of [South African Archbishop] Desmond Tutu ‘Like Apartheid... Why are memories so short? They not only stand by and watch but encourage a regime’

I recall many images.

I remember the day I first saw Tom [after he was shot]. It’s a very strong image which will be with me always. The first time I saw him in ICU, and standing by the bed was a wonderful young Israeli woman (healthworker) extremely distressed who turned to me and said “I am so sorry for my country”.

We travelled the same day to Rafah - I remember dozens of women coming to me as a European woman, I picked up their desperation; I felt they were asking me to understand what they go through daily.

What I / we’ve gone through does not compare with what they go through daily.

Unlike the British Government, we will not stand by.

[Jocelyn said Tom’s younger brother had just been refused entrance to Israel, where he was going that day to observe the trial of the soldier who admits he killed his brother. ]

We will continue to fight for thousands of nameless Palestinians And get a new message to the soldiers: that brutalisation and murder will not be tolerated.