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Human rights observers volunteering in the occupied territories are claiming the Israeli Defence Force has initiated a policy of deliberately targeting them and other foreign peace activists, following the latest shooting of Tom Hurndall in the Gaza Strip.
Chris Osmond, an International Solidarity Movement volunteer, told Red Pepper, ‘It looks like Israeli troops have been informed that it is ok to murder international human rights observers if they have to. We need a huge public outcry to encourage them to reverse this policy’. The ISM are lobbying the Foreign Office to start an investigation into the shooting of Tom Hurndall. They are asking people to phone the Foreign Office on 0207 7008 1500.
Grassroots International Protection For The Palestinian People (GIPP) coordinator, Bahiya Amra, has said, ‘This latest shooting is one more regrettable incident to be viewed in the same light as all the other recent cases of foreign activists being killed or maimed: a message to those from overseas who choose to live, work and visit the occupied Palestinian Territories, telling them that like Palestinians you are not safe, and will be targeted.’
Since November 2002 when British UN worker Ian Hook was shot dead by soldiers in Jenin, and GIPP/ISM activist Caoimhe Butterly was shot in the leg, there have been three more serious incidents resulting in deaths or near fatal injury.
On March 16, American Rachel Corrie was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she and other ISM activists were trying to prevent house demolitions in Rafah in the Gaza Strip.
On April 5, 24 year old Bryan Avery, also from the USA, was shot in the face by soldiers in an armoured personnel carrier during another unprovoked attack.
Then on April 10, Israeli forces yesterday shot Tom Hurndall, a 21 year old Londoner and member of GIPP/International Solidarity Movement, once again working in Rafah, Gaza Strip. He remains in a serious condition in Bir Sheva hospital, southern Israel.
He and other activists were planning to erect a protest tent in a local neighbourhood, when Israeli snipers started shooting. Tom, in the process of leaving the area, saw a small child stranded and courageously went to bring him out of the range of fire. He was doing the same thing for two small girls when he was shot in the back of the head.
His mother Jocelyn told Palestinian reporters, ‘Tom was wearing a bright orange fluorescent jacket. Apparently the watchtower housing the soldier who shot him wasn’t too far away from him either. We are worried that he may have been deliberately targeted, otherwise it seems inexplicable.’ Father, Anthony Hurndall added, ‘It’s getting to the stage where innocent Westerners are being killed and we have to take note. Those involved have to be called to account. I expect answers and not a cover-up.’
Fada Barhom, mother of seven-year-old Salame, the boy Tom saved, said, ‘This young British man saved my son. He is a hero, he is a martyr and we want to thank the people like him who are coming to Palestine to try to protect us. My heart aches for his mother.’
According to fellow activist Lora Gordon, Tom had originally gone to Baghdad to take photographs for his degree and spent two weeks there doing human shield work. He had wanted to work as a human shield in Iraqi hospitals, but Iraqi officials refused, so he went to Jordan to do refugee work before coming to work with the ISM in the Gaza Strip. ‘All we can do is pray for the miracle it will take to bring him back,’ she said.
Meanwhile officially, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) refuses to comment, although some extraordinary rumours have surfaced in the Israeli press: one Jerusalem Post article quoting an IDF commander as saying Hurndall was a member of an Egyptian terrorist group that uses internationals as fighters, and that he was attacking the soldiers when they shot him in self-defence.