… but the drama is loaded

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis -

Chan­nel 4, Mon­day Oc­to­ber 13

ON APRIL 11, 2003, Thomas Hurn­dall, a 21-year-old stu­dent pho­tog­ra­pher and peace ac­tivist was shot in the head and killed in the Gaza town of Rafah, near the bor­der with Egypt. The man who pulled the trig­ger was Sergeant Taysir Hayb, an IDF sniper. Hayb was sen­tenced to eleven-and-a-half years for the man­slaugh­ter of Hurn­dall.

Th­ese are the ba­sic facts. How­ever, this is the Mid­dle East and the facts do not be­gin to ex­plain the com­plex­ity of events sur­round­ing the killing of Hurn­dall. His par­ents, Jo­ce­lyn and An­thony, pressed the IDF for explanations — not out of re­venge, they claim, but to un­der­stand what re­ally hap­pened to their son. This pow­er­ful drama re­vis­ited the events and their con­se­quences.

The film, writ­ten by Si­mon Block and di­rected by Rowan Joffe, does at­tempt to rep­re­sent all view­points. Hurn­dall saw him­self as a peace ac­tivist and was at­tempt­ing to res­cue Pales­tinian chil­dren un­der gun­fire when he was shot.

But was he an im­par­tial by­stander? The In­ter­na­tional Sol­i­dar­ity Move­ment which he rep­re­sented is Pales­tini­an­funded and is re­garded by Is­rael and a hos­tile or­gan­i­sa­tion. Hurn­dall was given two days’ train­ing be­fore be­ing put in the front line of a war with high ca­su­al­ties on both sides. He had re­peat­edly pho­tographed the watchtower from which he was killed. There was a sug­ges­tion from one char­ac­ter that be­cause Pales­tinian ca­su­al­ties ex­cited lit­tle world­wide pub­lic­ity, Hurn­dall’s death and the at­ten­dant fall­out may not have been a com­pletely neg­a­tive event for the Pales­tinian hi­er­ar­chy.

Then there is the undis­puted fact that Gaza was a ter­ri­bly danger­ous place to be a civil­ian or a sol­dier. Joffe was at pains to show the watchtower from whichHurn­dall­wasshot­comin­gun­der sus­tained fire by Pales­tinian gun­men in sep­a­rate in­ci­dents. Al­though there was no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for Tayb’s action, it was easy to see how sol­diers could crack un­der those cir­cum­stances.

Tayb was quoted say­ing he “wanted to teach Hurn­dall a les­son”. He claimed he had been com­manded to keep a “ster­ile area” around the watchtower at all costs. The fact re­mains that he shot an un­armed, clearly iden­ti­fi­able and un­armed civil­ian.

De­spite the IDF’s prose­cu­tion of Tayb, and his con­vic­tion, the Hurn­dalls, played com­pellingly by Stephen Dil­lane and Kerry Fox, con­tin­ued to blame IDF pol­icy. At one point it was sug­gested that, be­cause Tayb was a Be­douin Arab rather than a Jew, the Is­raelis may have been more keen than oth­er­wise to of­fer him up as a sac­ri­fi­cial lamb.

Would a doc­u­men­tary have bet­ter served the ar­gu­ments? Drama, by its very def­i­ni­tion, seeks to in­ter­pret events, and to por­tray the emo­tions as well as the bare facts. Block’s film de­picts the IDF as se­vere, un­sym­pa­thetic and un­help­ful to the Hurn­dalls. One could even imag­ine a touch of racism di­rected to­wards Tayb and his fam­ily.

In con­trast, the Bri­tish em­bassy staff come across as hu­mane and sin­cere (al­though badly briefed: the mil­i­tary at­taché tells An­thony Hurn­dall that was prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to be­come Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter without hav­ing been a dec­o­rated gen­eral. Re­ally? Try telling that to David Ben Gu­rion, Golda Meir, Shi­mon Peres or Ehud Olmert).

Hurn­dall’s killing was a crim­i­nal act and tragic for his fam­ily. Yet, as Dil­lane, play­ing An­thony Hurn­dall, ac­knowl­edged: “Is­rael is a democ­racy”. Is­rael’s At­tor­ney Gen­eral or­dered an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry which re­sulted in Tayb’s prose­cu­tion.

Mean­while, only 19 days af­ter the killing of a Bri­tish civil­ian in Gaza, an­other Bri­tish civil­ian, Asif Muham­mad Hanif, walked into Mike’s Place bar in Tel Aviv and det­o­nated a sui­cide bomb killing three Is­raeli civil­ians and in­jur­ing 50 more. He and his ac­com­plice, Omar Khan Sharif, had dropped in on the ISM for a cof­fee and chat a few days be­fore car­ry­ing out the out­rage. So who ex­actly were the good guys here?

The Hurn­dalls are of course not the only fam­ily to have lost a fam­ily mem­ber fol­low­ing crim­i­nal action by sol­diers. Only months af­ter Hurn­dall’s death, an Iraqi, Saha Mousa was beaten to death by sol­diers of the Bri­tish Royal Mil­i­tary Po­lice. Of the nine ac­cused, all but one was ac­quit­ted.

What price a two-hour drama about the death of Saha Mousa?

Kerry Fox as Jo­ce­lyn Hurn­dall and Matthew McNulty as her son, Tom

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