Crit­ics lap up the Tom Hurn­dall film…

The me­dia ap­petite for cov­er­age of the tragedy proves un­re­lent­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - ALEX BRUMMER

THE IDF’S SHOOT­ING of 21-year-old Tom Hurn­dall, a vol­un­teer for the In­ter­na­tional Sol­i­dar­ity Move­ment, in April 2003 was a tragic mis­take for which its rep­u­ta­tion has suf­fered dearly. As a re­sult of the tena­cious cam­paign by the Hurn­dall fam­ily, the sol­dier re­spon­si­ble, Taysir Hayb, is serv­ing eight years for man­slaugh­ter. A Bri­tish in­quest found that Hurn­dall had been “in­ten­tion­ally killed” and de­liv­ered a ver­dict of “un­law­ful killing”.

In 2003, the BBC broad­cast a doc­u­men­tary about the af­fair. A book, Defy the Stars, was pub­lished by Tom’s mother, Jo­ce­lyn Hurn­dall, in 2007. Sev­eral ap­pear­ances by mem­bers of the fam­ily on the BBC’s To­day pro­gramme fol­lowed as they cam­paigned for jus­tice. The lat­est trib­ute is a full-length docu-drama broad­cast on Chan­nel 4 on Erev Suc­cot (re­viewed be­low).

Even though the tale of this tragedy has been told sev­eral times, and there are young Bri­tish men and women dy­ing ev­ery week in Afghanistan, the me­dia ap­petite for the Hurn­dall case is un­re­lent­ing, and the broad­sheets cov­ered the Chan­nel 4 show heav­ily.

In the Tele­graph, di­rec­tor Rowan Joffe said he was thrilled when hired to do the film­ing: “I can’t be­lieve my luck. This is a heart­break­ing, true story.” Joffe says he was de­ter­mined to rep­re­sent “the sniper’s story too” — with the bless­ing of Hurn­dall’s par­ents.

In­deed, the film, The Shoot­ing of Thomas Hurn­dall, like the book pub­lished by Blooms­bury and the un­re­lent­ing cam­paign to have Hayb’s sen­tence up­graded from man­slaugh­ter to mur­der, is a Hurn­dall fam­ily pro­duc­tion.

Since the tragic shoot­ing, the Hurn­dall fam­ily have be­come de­voted to the Pales­tinian cause. Sis­ter So­phie Hurn­dall, two years older than Tom, told The Times how she wanted to be a psy­chother­a­pist and now works for Med­i­cal Aid for Pales­tini­ans. Jo­ce­lyn also works for a Mid­dle East char­ity.

The Times’s Penny Wark ex­plored the re­la­tion­ship be­tween brother and sis­ter, part of the broader Hurn­dall fam­ily story told by the film, quot­ing So­phie: “It is not only a way of pur­su­ing his hu­man­i­tar­ian agenda by feel­ing close to him.” Her brother, she says, “was an ide­al­ist mo­ti­vated by seek­ing the truth”, and she touch­ingly de­scribes “the grief and pain” of watch­ing her brother dy­ing.

It was her brother’s death that opened her eyes to the plight of Pales­tini­ans in Gaza, “who don’t have any re­course to jus­tice”. She was shocked by “the con­sis­tency with which the IDF proac­tively cov­ers up this kind of case”. The Wark ar­ti­cle quoted So­phie’s ex­am­ples of a preg­nant woman re­fused help at a check­point who lost the baby, and of the shoot­ing of a 13year-old girl. There was no men­tion of the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion and the ter­ror per­vad­ing Is­rael in 2002 and 2003, when a suc­cess­ful sui­cide bomb­ing occurred al­most ev­ery two weeks.

The Ob­server noted that Jo­ce­lyn Hurn­dall cher­ished the words of an Is­raeli judge who noted that Sergeant Wahid Taysir had “caused a soul to leave this world… a young man in the bloom of youth”.

A re­view in the Sun­day Times de­scribed the Chan­nel 4 film as “an im­mensely af­fect­ing drama”. But the writer, Benji Wil­son, was crit­i­cal of the for­mat, not­ing that the main char­ac­ters, the Hurn­dalls, had an in­te­gral part in the mak­ing of the film and may even have ve­toed cer­tain scenes.

In par­tic­u­lar, a se­quence in which a col­league of the sniper Hayb is shot in the hand, in a counter-at­tack at the time of Tom’s shoot­ing, did not make the fi­nal cut. Joffe had wanted to demon­strate the kind of pres­sures un­der which IDF troops were op­er­at­ing.

The Hurn­dall fam­ily, ac­cord­ing to the Sun­day Times, were “de­lighted” with the film. Per­haps that is all we need to know.

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