An open letter to the family and friends of Tom Hurndall

Tom Hurndall (Kay Fernandes)

Dear family and friends of Tom,

Despite nine dreadful months in a coma, Tom’s death took us by surprise. It left us in a moment of stunned retreat while staring at the television screen. Upon hearing the news of his passing, many thoughts crossed my mind. I am sure that others felt similar emotions, ranging from anger to sadness and settling on renewed determination.

Tom’s death was the result of a cowardly act of viciousness, itself the result of an entrenched racist and oppressive system. Tom’s killing revealed not only the mercilessness of the tactics used by the Israeli army, but also disclosed the hypocrisy and compliance of our own Western governments.

Tom symbolized the peaceful, yet at the same time strong, will of humanity. That is more than can be said of the many “Coalition Forces” army casualties in Iraq who receive elaborate memorials and media coverage. We all remember the sharp double standard when an Israeli bulldozer crushed the young American peace activist Rachel Corrie to death in Gaza. Not long after that dark day in March, all media spotlights and patriotic rhetoric were focused on another young American woman: Private First Class Jessica Lynch, an injured war heroine “rescued” by Special Forces in an aura of Hollywood style triumphalism. Not yet a year since her ordeal, Ms. Lynch has already been featured as the subject of books, a made-for-t.v. movie, and several nationally broadcast interviews.

This irony and tragedy reminds us of the Orwellian axiom that “Who controls the present controls the past, and who controls the past can control the future.” As we gaze at our television screens, we see how chillingly accurate this formula is when Israeli spokespersons change the logic of language by redefining a permanent apartheid wall as a “terror prevention fence.” Most of the peace activists currently in Palestine are doing all they can to resist that wall. And they should, because it is like a poisonous snake that slowly penetrates, encircles, strangles and then swallows what is left of Palestine.

Fatalist though it may sound, given current political realities, it is just a matter of time before the next victim, another Tom Hurndall or Rachel Corrie, or even an Israeli protestor, will fall (and be commemorated by us) while resisting that snake in disguise. And it is inevitable, too, that the next person killed by the Israeli Army will be blamed for their own death in the mainstream media. The ruling ideas are indeed the ideas of the ruling class.

Yet times are changing. The thick wall of ideological domination, protected by military supremacy, which separates us from what could be a better world is starting to show cracks. Not only does the dissemination of alternative information through the Internet and satellite television give us a voice and thus a tool to organize, modern mass media are also enabling millions of people throughout the world to become organized and to actively take to the streets, motivated by an international level of solidarity never before seen. Tom was certainly a key player in this new global phenomenon.

The struggle for justice would be stronger if Tom were still with us. Yet I believe that his selfless actions and the ultimate price he paid for believing in humanity sparked a desire to know, struggle, act and will help to bring about a revolution in perception and action concerning Palestine. We don’t need elaborate memorials or long speeches from the same establishments that continue to back Israel and provide it with the very weapons and bulldozers that cause death and destruction. What we do need is hope and will to make a difference. One can only feel astonishment at the bald contradictions and injustices of the current world order, and horror at the astronomical prices that must be paid to support this unbalanced system. The latest bill for maintaining power in Iraq, after a war that was based on lies and deceptions, is illustrative. For a war that only ideologically deranged neocons and corporate interests are still willing to defend, Bush needs an extra $86 billion just to hang on. At the same time, we live in a world where 799 million people suffer from famine; 115 million children can’t afford to go to school; more than 30,000 people die from hunger and poverty-related disease every single day. The UN estimates that $9 billion are needed to provide basic education for all the worlds’ children and $36 billion to provide clean water and basic healthcare for all.

And while gazing at the news of Tom’s death, and looking at the picture of his gentle face again, it became clearer than ever before that the priorities of Bush, Blair, and Sharon are anything but the priorities of ordinary people trying to make a living and to live in peace. Since the result of these global contradictions will be increasing political instability on a global scale, priorities must be set with regard to our own individual choices. Indeed, it is not enough merely to analyze the world, the challenge “is to change it” as Marx observed over 150 years ago. Though it won’t be easy, we will have to make our own history.

Tom made a choice; Tom made history. It is people like him, Rachel, and many others who personify a new generation unwilling to blindly accept the world as it is, but who instead take risks and work together to forge new protest movements. People like Tom actively helped to universalize the Palestinian struggle, who together with millions of others in Washington, London, Paris, Genoa, Porto Allegre, Cairo and Ramallah showed that the Palestinian flag can become a symbol that binds us together. As the late Edward Said always said, Palestinians by themselves cannot defeat Zionism and its US backers.

To pay tribute to the many Tom’s and Rachel’s of Britain, Gaza, Jerusalem or Shatila refugee camp, I conclude by saying to those who have been taken from us: “You will never be forgotten and we will complete what you started.” And to all those still fighting I say “We are with and beside you, no matter what.” And to all those who are not yet part of the struggle for justice, I implore: “Join the struggle, because united we will stand, and divided we shall fall.”

I hope that on the coming international anti-war day planned for March 20, 2004 in all major cities around the world, that pictures of Tom, Rachel and so many other heroes — people who made history by making choices — will be carried in our heart, minds, and on our banners.

With comradely, loving, and respectful feelings,

Miriyam Aouragh