Critics lap up the Tom Hurndall film…
The media appetite for coverage of the tragedy proves unrelenting
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.