The Middle East journals of British photography student and budding reporter Tom Hurndall are much more than a collection of his photography, poetry, articles and diary entries. They explore the quest for meaning, agency and purpose of a traveller reflecting on fear, death, war and how to find truth in the midst of conflict.
The journals cover Tom’s journey through Iraq, initially following a group of international human shields. Morally, Tom felt close to those he was accompanying; his mind’s focus sharpened from a sensitivity to injustice, through to intimately witnessing it, to living with it. ‘I have learnt to feel my thoughts,’ he wrote.
Tom’s images from Palestine are exceptional. Having made the transition from observer to participant, he is up close and personal, feet away from bulldozers, tanks, Israeli and Egyptian watch-towers.
He records a period when Israeli forces and 8,000 settlers still directly occupied the Gaza strip and homes were being demolished daily. In documenting the tactics of International Solidarity Movement volunteers, death is never far from Tom’s consciousness. He writes: ‘There is an Israeli settlement a few hundred metres away with military snipers in between. Any one of us could be watched through a sniper’s sights at this moment. The certainty is that they are watching, and it is on the decision of any one Israeli soldier that my life depends.’
Tom was indeed killed by an Israeli sniper in Rafah in April 2003. He was just 22 years old. It was less than a month after ISM activist Rachel Corrie was bulldozed to death, and six days since Brian Avery was shot in the face by Israeli forces.
This book gives texture and an insight to Tom’s personality that humanises him, those he met and the reader, leaving you with the feeling that you did know him. I now have his images from Jerusalem, Gaza, Baghdad, Amman, him playing football, wearing a journalist’s helmet, digging in tents and laughing to remember.
He tells us, ‘I have lived, and do live, so many different lives. And I couldn’t leave without telling everyone who I really am.’ This book does that.