(Communicated by the IDF Spokesman)
Today, June 27, 2005, the Military Court for the Southern Command charged the IDF soldier involved in the death of British civilian Tom Hurndall with manslaughter, as well as six additional charges.
Tom Hurndall, an ISM activist, was severely wounded on the Philadelphi Route in Rafah on April 11, 2003, when the accused purposely shot at him. According to the military court’s verdict, Mr. Hurndall was hit when the soldier deliberately fired a single bullet aimed at a spot adjacent to Mr. Hurndall’s head. The soldier opened fire in complete violation of IDF rules engagement. Tom Hurndall died of his wounds on June 14, 2003.
The soldier accused was found guilty in the charges of manslaughter, obstruction of justice (two charges), submission of false information, solicitation of submission of false information, and conduct unbecoming.
The IDF wishes to express its deepest condolences and sorrow to Tom Hurndall’s family.
Summary of Verdict
The Military Court for the Southern Command handed down its verdict today in the case of Sgt. T, who was charged with the manslaughter of Tom Hurndall, a member of the International Solidarity Movement.
The verdict was handed down at the Military Court of the Southern Command by the following judges: President of the Court Colonel Nir Aviram, and Lt. Col. (reserve) Avi Zamir and Major Manor Spitz.
The Court found that:
On the southwest border of Gaza, on the Philadelphi Route between the Palestinian and the Egyptian sides of Rafah, during the afternoon hours of Friday, 11 April 2003, Sgt. T was manning a pillbox guard post, alone. In accordance with the commanders’ assessment of his high level of capability as a combat soldier, Sgt. T was made commander of the post. Another soldier in the team, Sgt. A, left the guard post to eat one level below the pillbox.
At sunset, Sgt. T identified a young man with a goatee, located beyond the row of houses closest to the pillbox. Around his back and shoulders he was draped in a bright orange coat, identifying him as an ISM activist. Tom Hurndall, a young British citizen aged 21, was there at that hour in order to distance children who were playing in an area which he suspected was dangerous (according to the statement of Joseph Carr, an ISM member).
"He was insolent and did not give us respect," reported Sgt. T during his interrogation, approximately nine months later.
Members of the organization annoyed him with their practice of approaching the guard post and infiltrating a "prohibited area", which is a "special security area" adjacent to the border, with full knowledge that the IDF imposed strict limitations on their activities in that area. Sgt. T took the opportunity and decided to send a message of warning, to frighten the young man, and distance him eastward.
He fired a single bullet at a point approximately 10 centimeters left of Tom Harndell’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.
From this point on Sgt. T began to weave a web of untruthful events with the intention of distorting the investigation and distancing himself from criminal for the act. He reported that a "terrorist" was peeking out and observing him from one of the houses and that he received permission from his commander of the platoon on duty, to "drop him," ‘which means: to check if the terrorist was endangering the soldiers and to fire at him in order to hit him, if so. He immediately reported that he had fired one bullet at the terrorist and hit him in the head; the terrorist fell backwards and was taken away by two people into a house.
At the same time he told a fabricated story to Sgt. A and asked him to report it to his commanders. In reality, Sgt. A heard the single shot from the tower and saw nothing. The two reported the false "terrorist version" in the field investigation conducted by the head of the battalion, and later reiterated it to the head of the brigade. It is no surprise then, that the investigation of the brigade commander did not reveal the behavior of Sgt. T.
Seven months later, Sgt. T repeated his version to investigators of the Military Police, and attempted to involve his friend A in the investigation and requested to be dismissed a second time for an error in the justice proceedings. After a month and a half during which T stuck to his false story, Sgt. A broke, and told the Military Police investigators them about what he had done and about the misdeeds of T.
From then on, it did not take long for Sgt. T to confess. In the end, Sgt. T confessed to investigators that he had fired a bullet of warning at the "annoying" ISM member, who despite being unarmed, had entered a prohibited security area and was coming closer to him in a threatening manner. All he wanted to do was warn and distance him from the area, so he claimed.
The Writ of Indictment handed down against Sgt. T originally charged him with causing gross bodily harm to Tom Hurndall. The next day, Mr. Hurndall passed away and the charges against the defendant were amended to manslaughter. Mr. Hurndall had been in a hospital in London in a comatose state for nine months after being wounded during the incident.