Today I read an article in the Guardian online about Tom Hurndall. He was shot and killed in broad daylight by a soldier from an IDF Bedouin unit. The soldier is currently serving eight years for the crime but was only put on trial at all because of the actions of his family in lobbying the British and Israeli governments.
The Life of Tom is particularly topical at the moment due to an upcoming channel 4 film about him, or more accurately his family and their actions in the wake of his death. The film is being shown on monday 13 October. Inevitably the IDF are going to come in for a great deal of schtick for this public portrait of the death of an unarmed British citizen.
There are some factors that are brought to light by the Guardian article that I would like to comment on.
Tom was a man who had travelled overland to Gaza from Iraq where he had positioned himself as a human shield in an attempt to prevent the allied attack there. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know already please read on...
The Guardian online article is based on seperate interviews with both Tom's mother and father, one of the points made by his bereaved father is to compare the actions taken by the British government in the wake of Tom's death and in the wake of two British citizens travelling to Israel and becoming suicide bombers, one of whom detonated his suicide bomb in Mikes Place pub.
To equate the actions of the government on these two issues is to create connections between two events that have nothing in common. I find it hard to understand why the UK sharing intelligence info on two terrorists who blew themselves up is similar to Tom being shot in Gaza, literally I just do not see the connection!
What is it that Hurndall senior is actually saying here? Is it that because the two countries shared intellignece info that... nope I still can't think of any particular suggestion that he's making.
Is he arguing that a British citizen injured or killed on a foreign country should control British foreign policy? Is he arguing that the British government should punish any country where a British citizen is killed?
Tom knew the risks of going into Gaza the same as he knew the risks of going into Iraq, he chose to go anyway and by so doing took his life in his own hands.
For those who don't know already let me spell it out: G A Z A I S N O T A S A F E P L A C E there is an army operating there against a group of religious extremists, however you feel about the conflict wherever you place yourself on the spectrum of opinion, if you go there you must realise that there is the possibility that you will be hurt!!!
If you go anyway, as Tom did, you place yourself in a netherworld, neither Palestinian nor IDF you do not know what the rules of the game are down there, you do not speak Hebrew or Arabic and are therefore not going to understand instructions given to you and are probably going to do something stupid that will get you killed!
In the army we sarcasticly referred to people like Tom and James as "Peacemakers" people who came to the Palestinian territories thinking that they were going to change everything, or to instantly provide justice for Palestinians by waving their magic passports. They always placed themselves in the firing line often without even realising it.
In Palestinian towns there can be a curfue put in place, peacemakers aren't fans of a curfue (essentially the army saying that anyone who leaves their house between certain hours is considered a military target) and therefore break them.
I have seen people out in a closed military zone, in an extremely dangerous area where they are liable to get shot by either side. Sometimes they were just walking around normally blissfully ignorant as to where they were, other times they would walk slowly with their passport held high.
One time an American girl came right up to an apartment building where my team were taking cover, she was crying and had a plastic bag in her hand. She shouted up to us through her tears: "I have some bread for the family" The family whoses apartment we had taken over were in another room away from view, their fridge was stuffed with pittot, hummus, pizzas and everything else that one would expect a fridge to hold yet here we were being forced to deal with an American girl with an entirely false perception of what it is that Palestinians needed from her and what it was that they were going through.
In her mind leaving the bread for the family was her good deed for the day and what she thought she knew about the IDF would have been confirmed had we told her to leave. Instead we told her to place the bread at the foot of the stairs and shouted down to her from the balcony our assurnaces that it would be delivered, not, of course, that they actually needed it!
I remember my comrade Forrest's bemused face when he returned from the room that the family were in having just given them the bread that they so sorely did not need back into their apartment which they did desperately want us to leave but that we were still occupying.
It was impossible to talk to peacemakers, it was impossible to deal with them, they knew what they knew and that was it, there was no real ability on our part to explain anything to them. More importantly they had no concept of 'the rules of the game' this is the little things that, over forty years of occupation have developed between soldiers and combatants and passed down by older fighters to younger on both sides.
Rules about how to fight stone throwers as opposed to armed terrorists etc, things like what time life begins in the various cities of the West Bank and at that time Gaza. For example I knew that at 4 am Nablus began to wake up, so even if I saw a moving vehicle which, technically meant someone was breaking curfew and I should shoot them ensured that I did not open fire, or that during a military operation Palestinian civilians essentially cooperated with the IDF in the knowledge that anyone who did not would instantly be seen by us as a threat and therefore would be in danger.
Peacemakers ignored these rules, broke curfew and moved around as they wished, often with their passport (certainly not bulletproof) held high. I guess that they were ideologically opposed to measures like curfews and that was why they ignored them. I suppose in their minds the reason for going to the Palestinian territories was to stop things like curfews from happening so why pay any attention to them.
It is interesting to me that in the cases of both James and Tom they were 'rescuing' children, my experience tells me that these children knew alot more about how to stay safe in the face of the IDF than these two outsiders. I'm sure that they genuinely thought that they were helping but in fact were more likely bumbling around thinking that they were doing good whilst doing nothing more than getting in the way!
There are lots of Peacemakers running around the West Bank and Gaza the ones that I met always gave me the impression that they were tourists. As though for them going somewhere dangerous and 'being involved' was a great thing for them to do for a couple of weeks before going back to their boring lives in the Western world and I was never quite sure what it was that they were looking to achieve. Personally I simply counldn't understand why the hell any of them went there.