It’s not often that an Israeli soldier is arrested for using his weapon in the battle zone of the Gaza Strip.
So when the parents of a young Briton shot in Gaza in April 2003 heard that the soldier who fired at their son had been arrested, they were pleased and a bit hopeful.
Tom Hurndall was 21 when he was shot in the head in Gaza. The shot caused brain damage that left him in a persistent vegetative state, from which he is not expected to recover.
Hurndall was in Gaza with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, whose members serve as “human shields” to foil the Israeli military’s anti-terrorism operations. Israeli authorities have said members of the group may be supporting Palestinian terrorism.
Hurndall’s father Anthony, a London property lawyer, said the arrest was “a starting point.”
“Clearly, the fact that there has been an arrest means the IDF and the military police are taking it seriously,” Anthony Hurndall told JTA. “What follows is even more important. Our concern is that there should be a prosecution for unlawful wounding — or unlawful killing or murder if Tom dies.”
The Israel Defense Forces originally said there was a gunman in the area when Hurndall, a photography student at Britain’s Manchester Metropolitan University, was shot.
But following interrogation by military police, the soldier in custody admitted there was no gunman.
Maj. Sharon Feingold, an IDF spokeswoman, said the soldier “has admitted that his version he gave a few months back was false.”
“Initially, he claimed he returned fire.” But later, the solider “admitted shooting in the proximity of an unarmed civilian in order to deter him,” Feingold told the BBC.
The soldier has not been named. He reportedly is a member of the Bedouin patrol battalion, who was in a watchtower in the Rafah refugee camp about 150 yards from Hurndall when the shooting occurred.
On Dec. 31, the IDF said the soldier’s detention was being extended by seven days. The army has not said when he was arrested.
The British Foreign Office, which had pressed for an inquiry into the shooting, said it “greatly welcomed this positive development.”
“We attach great importance to seeking an outcome that will be satisfactory for Tom’s family, and the case has been raised regularly with the Israeli authorities at high level,” the Foreign Office said in a statement Dec. 31.
Anthony Hurndall and his wife Jocelyn spent six weeks in the Middle East in the wake of their son’s shooting on April 11.
Asif Hanif, a British citizen, is believed to have been in contact with the group before carrying out a suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv beachfront caf , Mike’s Place, at the end of April 2003.
Hurndall was the third International Solidarity Movement activist in just over a month to be killed or seriously wounded in the Palestinian-populated territories, allegedly by gunfire from Israeli troops.
Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American student, was crushed to death when she sat in front of an armored bulldozer in March. Israel said the driver did not see her and accidently drove over her.
Bryan Avery, 24, of New Mexico, was shot in the face a week before Hurndall was shot.
Hurndall appears to have been acting as a so-called human shield when he was shot. Hurndall’s family says he was wearing a fluorescent jacket and trying to escort Palestinian children away from the path of an Israeli tank.
He had been in Gaza for 10 days taking photographs, and he would have been known to Israeli troops, his family said.
Not long after the shooting, Hurndall was flown to the Royal Hospital for Neurodisability in London, where he is being kept alive by life-support machines.
Doctors have indicated they may apply for permission to turn the machines off — a move that does not require the family’s approval. The Hurndalls have said Tom’s journals indicate he wouldn’t have wanted to be kept alive if he had no chance of recovery.
The Hurndalls originally demanded an independent inquiry into the event.
Israel’s judge advocate general approved a military investigation in October. Initially, the Hurndalls said they feared it would lead to a “whitewash” of the incident, but they have been heartened by last week’s arrest, which Anthony Hurndall said indicates that authorities are taking the case seriously.
“We’ll let this process continue to see what it produces. It may well mean that other action is not necessary,” he said.
He added that he hoped the case would affect the behavior of the Israeli army, which he said had “been given a very loose rein.”
“We hope it re-introduces some degree of accountability into what used to be a very well-respected and disciplined army,” Anthony Hurndall said. “We want what happened to Tom to make a difference.”
The army has not commented in detail on the Hurndalls’ allegations.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.