Home / In the Media / The battle for justice is not over

The battle for justice is not over

Originally published in the Hampstead & Highgate Express

Sitting in her living room nearly two and a half years after the shooting of her son Tom, Jocelyn Hurndall remains defiant.

The sentencing of a soldier in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to eight years in prison for the manslaughter of Mr Hurndall may have seemed to be the closing chapter of her family’s struggle.

But there has been no let-up in the fight for justice she has been leading since her son was shot in the head while he tried to carry Palestinian children from gunfire in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip.

Now she wants the Israeli military, not just the soldier who fired the fatal bullet, to take responsibility.

She says: “We will continue speaking about the chain of command.

“And apart from the racism and the discrimination that exists in Israel, the Israelis are doing terrible things; preventing access to housing and medical treatment to Palestinians – the most basic sort of benefits.

“So, as far as being closed, no it is not.”

Mrs Hurndall’s sense of enduring injustice has acted as a beacon in the gloom of her grief. It has given her a clear purpose: to take up the case of innocent Palestinians killed by the IDF.

She says: “We have said all along that this has been about justice for Tom and for everyone else suffering human rights abuses.”

It has inevitably led to Mrs Hurndall, her husband Anthony and their three children – Freddie, Billy and Sophie – being portrayed as pro-Palestinian.

While Tom has become a martyr to the Palestinian cause, his siblings have been involved in their own ways in the campaign to bring his killer to justice.

It even led to Billy being denied free entry to Israel to see his brother’s killer stand trial.

The Hurndalls received hate mail and were cast by some right-wing commentators as little more than pawns in the hands of the left-wing, pro-Palestinian forces.

“Some people see us as partisan,” she says. “And we are sympathetic to the Palestinian situation, but it is about justice for all, not just for our son – for Palestinians or for other groups that have suffered.

“The soldier, he certainly sees us as partisan.”

The story of Tom’s shooting is particularly strange, in that it does not fit with the notion of a war between Jews and Arabs.

Tom was British, volunteering with a group of peace protesters called the International Solidarity Movement. His killer is an Arab.

Idier Wahid Taysir is a Bedouin who served in the Bedouin Reconnaissance Battalion. A member of the Arab minority in Israel, he now claims he has become a scapegoat for the overwhelmingly Jewish military’s own problems.

While Mrs Hurndall agrees with him and has some sympathy for his plight. But, she says: “It is a very, very conservative sympathy.

“In general, I would [have sympathy] for those who are scapegoated. There is serious racism in the Israeli Army. [Bedouin] are confined together within particular units and don’t mix with other Jewish units.

“They are seen and treated differently and I think that is an iniquity.”

Despite her serious concerns about Israel, she is quick to praise the professionalism of the Israeli court that tried her son’s killer and she says she was impressed by their summing up in advance of sentencing.

She also accepts that racism and inequality are common to many parts of the world, not least in other parts of the Middle East.

But she says: “I believe that it is very important to separate religion from politics, and if it was more possible to do this then I believe it would have huge benefits to both sides and it would relieve poverty and suffering in the region.”

The shooting of Tom, a photography student, became a touchstone for Britain’s own role in the Palestinian question.

This country once resisted the formation of the state of Israel, when after the First World War it came to rule over the territory.

Since then, Britain’s position on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories has been hidebound with a diplomatic unwillingness to criticise Israel.

Mrs Hurndall says: “I came to understand quite a lot about the diplomatic relations [between the countries] and to have a regard for it.

“But because we challenged the Israelis so regularly I hope that we shifted more ground, in terms of the position that the military investigation into my son’s death was highly mendacious.”

When asked about the effect of the last two years on her family, Mrs Hurndall says that she would prefer not to say too much.

She says: “Each member of the family has had to find a way to deal with it and get our jobs and careers together after the loss.

“That will go on for a very long time, because we valued him so much and he has been a cataclysmic loss in the family.”

But she is more forthcoming when asked about the effect her son’s death has had on her.

She says: “It hasn’t changed my views, but it has developed them. We would always have tried to be open-minded and broad-minded in our thinking and non-judgemental. But the tragedy of what has happened to Tom, it has changed me as I’m much more in touch with mortality and therefore life.

“I see significance in everything now. It is possible for every moment to be significant now and I’m aware of that. There is also no room for superficiality.”

She says that her son was disapproving of their comfortable life in north London, and felt they had “far more than they needed.”

Does she feel this event and the way it has changed her has made her a little more like her son – who travelled out to Iraq and Israel to become a photojournalist?

She says: “They never see you as you are capable of being – and to have never had that conversation with him…

“But I do actually agree. He was discovering things for the first time in his life and I did understand what he was trying to do. But I would never have been as brave