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What price a life?

Jocelyn Hurndall

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In the pensive hours of the night, I am struck by the varying values that mankind chooses to allot to life - as was my son Tom. Earlier this month, I read with mixed feelings the news that local Palestinian militia had dynamited an Israeli defence force watchtower in the town of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. It was from this watchtower, which has been responsible for untold misery to many innocent families in Rafah, that Tom was shot in the head last April. At the time he was trying to help Palestinian children to safety. He now lies in a vegetative state in a hospital in London with no hope of recovery.
Tom Hurndall is a threat to those whose hypocrisy must be kept hidden.
This week we learned that the Israeli soldier who has been arrested for the shooting is alleged to have smoked cannabis with his battalion. As last year was drawing to a close, a phone call from the British Foreign Office informed me that, under interrogation, this soldier has confessed to shooting my son, knowing he was an unarmed civilian. He claimed that the shot was meant as a “deterrent”. From what? From rescuing children? Had he been so conditioned that an act of humanity could only inspire in him such a violent reaction?

I felt no sense of relief then but, for the first time, allowed myself to feel increasing anger. The IDF’s inability to differentiate between friend and foe, truth and untruth, and to see themselves as they are seen, is clear to all.

I read the observations recorded in Tom’s Middle-East journals. They show a young man determined to be open-minded, to understand and, above all, to make a difference. He had come to understand, as we do now, the customary illegal, inhuman retribution exacted by the IDF from this particular watchtower on the local community, little realising how it was to leave him a thread away from death.

It seems that life is cheap in the occupied territories. Different value attached to life depends on whether the victim happens to be Israeli, international or Palestinian. This has been exemplified recently by the reaction of the Israeli public to the shooting of an Israeli peace activist, fresh out of his three-year military police service, demonstrating against the illegal “security” fence. Two days later an announcement was made that a military police inquiry was to be held into the shooting. Questions were raised in the Knesset. This is in stark contrast to the six months of campaigning that it took for an inquiry to be launched into the shooting of Tom.

There have been thousands of killings in Palestine since the Intifada, with only a handful having the benefit of an investigation. Now, a three-week occupation of Nablus (the largest city in Palestine) has left a further 19 people dead and dozens of homes and buildings destroyed, leaving scores of innocent people homeless, all on a pretext of searching for a terror suspect.

Shooting at children is all in a day's work for the IDF. Nearly 500 have died at the hands of the Israeli military in the past three years.

Shooting at children is all in a day’s work for the IDF.
Nearly 500 have died at the hands of the Israeli military in the past three years.

When will those responsible accept that it is illegal to collectively and obsessively punish a whole community? Has the hard-nosed Sharon government made connections between the horror of the Holocaust and the current brutal incursions? Countless insightful Israelis, Palestinians and people the world over have done so. Is it surprising that Israel was voted the most dangerous threat to world peace in a recent European Union poll?

It hurts me to hear the deafening silence of our own government. How can there have been no statement of condemnation or condolence for the innocent victims of Israel’s mindless violence from our own prime minister, Tony Blair? The silence was only broken when on Christmas day the United States president “strongly condemned” the actions of the suicide bombers responsible for killing four Israeli soldiers at a bus stop just outside Tel Aviv. Does this double standard not underline the lack of regard in which both the British and US governments hold Palestinian life?

So I have questions to ask of Tony Blair. Does he regard the children of Palestine as children of a lesser god? Does he accept that such inaction is tantamount to complicity in the process of destroying any peace initiative in the Middle East? Mr Blair, you know now that an Israeli soldier has confessed to shooting in cold blood an unarmed British citizen who was trying to shepherd children away to safety. When will you be ready to openly condemn these actions?

Published Sunday, January 11th, 2004 - 03:17pm GMT

Jocelyn Hurndall is the mother of peace campaigner, Tom Hurndall, and a committee member of the Thomas Hurndall Foundation, which campaigns for justice for the Palestinian people

Article courtesy of The Guardian

Note: Tom Hurndall died on Tuesday January 13th 2004.

Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, to which Tom belonged, said:

"We, like the family of Tom, will never get over the death of Tom and I have already received many condolences from Palestinians. He gave his life to help bring justice to a people that has been denied it for so long."

Tom’s sister, Sophie Hurndall, said her brother was well aware of the risks involved in working with peace activists in the Gaza strip.

"He was absolutely aware of the risks. The problem with Palestine is that the Israeli government and the Israeli army have made it very difficult for any human rights organisation to get into Palestine. Tom went down there knowing that this was the case. He knew absolutely what he was getting into, but it was a human rights case that he believed in so passionately."

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