Hundreds of protesters are expected to gather today at the place where Tom Hurndall was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper as he tried to rescue Palestinian children trapped under fire.
The 21-year-old British peace activist was still in a coma yesterday, and there was little sign of brain activity as hopes that he might survive faded. The shooting on 11 April has cast a shadow over the efforts of hundreds of young volunteers who have travelled to the occupied territories, hoping they can stop the killing. Rachel Corrie, an American, was the first international peace activist to die in the occupied territories. She was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer little more than a month ago, a block or two from where Tom Hurndall was shot. Another American, Brian Avery, was badly injured when he was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers.
But the peace activists have not been put off. Lina Jamoul, a 25-year-old Briton studying in London, had just arrived in Nablus. We found her with a crowd of activists trying to clear away a mound of earth Israeli soldiers had used to block a road. “The Friday night before I came out I heard about Tom Hurndall getting shot in the head,” she said. “I was really scared but I thought the people who live here don’t have a choice. If they can live here then I can take it for two weeks.”
The Palestinians in Nablus provide the activists with free accommodation, but the trip still cost Ms Jamoul £600. “When I got to Jerusalem, I met some friends of Rachel Corrie,” she said. “They had been in Rafah with Tom when he was shot, and with Rachel when she died. They were young people who understand the importance of what they’re doing.”
Despite her nose-ring, Ms Jamoul does not fit the hippy stereotype that has been attached, somewhat unfairly, to the activists. A Muslim born in Syria, Ms Jamoul said her feelings for the Palestinians as fellow Arabs motivated her coming to the occupied territories.
The activists’ International Solidarity Movement (ISM) has been lambasted in Israel as biased. Certainly some of the activists have taken a one-sided view of the conflict. But Jo Bird from Manchester and her mother, Rica, were proof that not all have. For one thing, they are Jewish. And Rica Bird refers to her horror at the innocent Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombings, as often as to her opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Jo Bird had been here as a peace activist twice before her 57-year-old mother decided to accompany her on her third trip. Jo, a 32-year-old professional, was using two weeks of holiday time to be in Nablus. “Sometimes I’m really scared here,” said Jo. On her second visit to the occupied territories, during the Israeli army offensive last April, she was with a group of ISM activists who were shot at by an Israeli tank in Bethlehem. “I was terrified. I’ll never forget being shot at by the Israeli army. Some of my friends were hit.” So why did she come back? “The occupation is still here. There are still terrorist attacks inside Israel. We have to show our solidarity with non-violent groups.”