Israeli soldier convicted for killing Tom Hurndall

Tom Hurndall (Kay Fernandes)

On Monday 27 June 2005 a military court convicted Israeli Sergeant Taysir Wahid of the “manslaughter” of British peace activist and photographer Tom Hurndall. On April 11, 2003, Hurndall was shot in the head and suffered irreversible brain damage, dying from his wound a year later. Wahid was convicted of a total of six charges, including obstructing justice and providing false testimony as well as conduct unbecoming a soldier. A sentencing hearing is to be held on July 5.

Summary of Verdict*:

Today, Monday 27/6/05, the Military Court for the Southern Command verdict was handed down its verdict 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, 11/04/03, 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, to come closer to the guard post and infiltrate 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 has 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 version, “the terrorist version”, in the field investigation conducted by the head of the battalion, and later reiterated in front of 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  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 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.

The accused pleaded “not guilty”, and said he had not hit the deceased. His attornies claimed he had acted in self defense. After evidence hearings, the Court dismissed the defendant’s version in court and decided to accept parts of the last version he gave to the Military Police investigators, adopted the eyewitness testimony of Joseph Carr in reference to the location of the wounding of the deceased.  This evidence negated the possibility of any lawful fire by the defendant.

The Court examined the claims by the defense that the deceased, who died within the medical care of a London hospital, was purposely denied antibiotics or additional oxygen in his vegetative state when he suffered from a severe lung infection, and poisoned deliberately by exaggerated amounts of morphine mixed with pain relievers.

No basis to this claim was found in the evidence submitted to the Court. 

The Court determined that even if this was a case of “euthanasia”, this outcome was foreseeable, and does not sever the causal link between the shooting and the death.

When the defendant opened fire using a telescopic sight and fired ten centimeters from the leftear of Tom Hurndall, he fired a single bullet which critically wounded this young man, who was completely innocent, in definitive violation of the Rules of Engagement, and caused him to become severely brain damaged and to enter a vegetative state with no chance of recovery, meaning the death of the deceased, the deadly result which the defendant expected. Even if the deceased was on the brink of life for nine months, and even if the medical team committed euthanasia at the request of his family members.

At the end of this long process, there is no reasonable doubt in our hearts that Sgt. T is guilty and therefore we have decided to find him guilty of manslaughter in accordance with article 298 of the Penal Code, 1977.

*The summary of the verdict was published on the website of the IDF.

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