Soldier convicted in UK activist's death accuses court of racism
By TOVAH LAZAROFF , MARGOT DUDKEVITCH AN SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
The guilty verdict handed down by a military court against the IDF officer who killed British protester Tom Hurndall in the Gaza Strip in 2003 was not the end of the story, Hurndall's family said Monday.
The manslaughter verdict, issued by the Southern Command Military Court, marks the first time a soldier has been found guilty of killing a foreign citizen since violence with the Palestinians broke out in September 2000.
The defendant, Sgt. Wahid Taysir, sat silently throughout the hour long reading of the verdict. He alleged that he was prosecuted because he is an Arab and because his victim was a foreigner. He accused the court of racism.
Hurndall, 22, a photography student who volunteered for the International Solidarity Movement, was shot in the head while attempting to lead a group of children out of the line of IDF fire in Rafah, according to witnesses at the scene.
"I think inevitably that we accept that there has been justice up to a point," his mother Jocelyn Hurndall, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from England. "We are very aware that the soldier is a very small cog in a much longer chain of command, and we do feel that the chain of command needs to take responsibility for what happened. He was operating in a system that enabled him to do what he did. It's only been a partial justice."
Her husband, Anthony, who had been in court, was already on his way home.
"We already believe that there are serious grounds for appeal," said defense lawyer Ilan Bombach.
Critically wounded, Hurndall lay in a coma in a hospital in Israel for months before being transferred to London, where he died in January 2004.
"The conviction in the Hurndall case shows that our legal system is clean, clear, transparent," ambassador to Britain Zvi Hefetz told the Post. "The court delivered its verdict today and we support and believe the verdict of the court."
The embassy explained that the shooting occurred in a situation in which soldiers were exposed to risks from terrorists. "However, these dangers do not permit misconduct by the IDF. The actions of the former soldier, while isolated, were unacceptable and therefore he was rightly convicted today," it said in a press release.
Kim Howells, a minister in the British Foreign Office, welcomed the conviction. "I have every sympathy for the family and I hope that they will draw some comfort from this conviction," he said.
Col. Nir Aviram, Lt.-Col. (res.) Avi Zamir and Maj. Manor Spitz presided over the trial in which Taysir was also found guilty of two counts of obstruction of justice, giving false testimony, suborning perjury and unbecoming behavior.
His behavior and initial attempts to submit false testimony to obstruct the Military Police inquiry caused a considerable amount of damage, the court said.
Nine months after the incident, Taysir told interrogators that "Hurndall was insolent and did not give us respect." He also said that he was annoyed by the ISM activists' behavior and their attempts to get closer to the IDF post despite the area being a closed military zone.
Taysir admitted that he wanted to frighten Hurndall. 'He fired a single bullet at a point, approximately 10 centimeters left of Tom Hurndall's ear, but hit him in the forehead and critically wounded him. He claims that he did not intend to hit him, but the young man moved his head,' the charge sheet said.
The court said it was at this point Taysir began to 'weave a web of lies to distort the investigation.'
Taysir's lawyers claimed Hurndall did not die directly from his wounds, but because of malpractice by his British doctors. In its ruling, the court said there was no basis for this claim.
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