Under the Occupation 

Tom Hurndall Update from Joe and Lora / Huwaida Arraf, ISM

The following account was written by Lora Gordon and Joe Smith, two ISM volunteers and Tom's colleagues. Please note that there is naturally overwhelming emotion expressed both by Lora and Joe and also by Tom's brother, Billy, who is quoted in the account below. Billy's quote, " he [Tom] is being treated by the same bastards that shot him " is a reflection of understandable anger and sadness, though it does not reflect the views of the ISM. We would, however like to highlight a concern that incomplete or less than accurate information is being given to Tom's friends and family about his condition.

For media inquiries, please write to ism-alerts@palsolidarity.org or call:


Tom Hurndall Update

Lora Gordon and Joe Smith

I am too strong and normal here in Be'er Sheva Soroka Medical Center, which is far away from Rafah and where visiting hours are scattered and fleeting and we only see Tom for a few minutes, only have to deal with reality for a few minutes every day. Outside of those few minutes it's hospital halls and fluorescent lights, counting the tiles laid out in floor patterns and making frequent trips to the cafeteria and the lawn outside, which makes the whole thing look like a college campus. Yesterday, some college student reporters came to interview me and Joe, videotaped me writing in my journal from four angles and I don't know how many of Joe smoking a cigarette just so, I hate journalists. I really don't want to deal with this vulgarity, where my friend Tom gets a bullet through the head and then lies in a coma for days, his whole

body swollen and white. It is too easy to look at pictures of him from before and fold them up into some dark corner where people sleep for ages as they were, or keep traveling while you stay where you are.

We have been staying in a house in Kibbutz Shuval, a little north of Be'er Sheva, with an amazing family who has laid out for us a room full of

mattresses and blankets and a space heater and a computer, and drives us to and from the hospital and feeds us loads of tea and hummus and cheese made fresh on the kibbutz. The kibbutz is beautiful with curved paths to get lost on and great expanses of green and flowers and the most adorable apartments that feel safe like strong arms rocking... it is really disorienting to commute between the hospital and here, this is my only view of Be'er Sheva ever and mostly I am so used to Rafah, where beauty is harder to find and precious like rare stones. In Hebron, in Jerusalem, there is beauty in the hills and the homes scattered like a monopoly board and the sun setting, and it's easy to let your eyes settle on the surface... the Gaza Strip resembles a wasteland to those who have never seen it before and it takes longer to find the beauty but you find it in the core of things, some deeper reality.

We barely knew Tom. He was here a few days only, which is nothing at all when everyone is scattered doing projects in all corners of the Gaza Strip. Only now we are piecing together some kind of coherent impression of who he was. He spent two weeks in Iraq doing some human shield work but mainly documentation, working closely with Michelle, who is a documentary maker and came with him to the middle east and was working with ISM Nablus until now and is spending most nights in the hospital, sleepless. Nathan is there with him as well; he had been working in Jenin until he heard the news and bolted to

the hospital with Michelle. The three had wanted to work as human shields in Iraqi hospitals, but Iraqi officials wouldn't let them in, so they went to Jordan to do some refugee work for a week before coming to work with ISM here in Palestine. Tom has been everywhere, speaks all kinds of bits of languages... we look through pictures his brother Billy has brought of him and his eyes shine like to burn the paper. We remember him with a half smile all the time chuckling at the kids and taking pictures... oh god could he take pictures.

It is unspeakably wrong to see him in the hospital, his life monitor beeping while he breathes on a machine. They taped his one eye closed, as it was horribly disturbing to see it half open, glaring at nothing, no life in it whatsoever. The swelling of his face has gone down and he is more recognizable now, but his bandages hide most of his head. I ask Michelle if there is any notion of his presence, if she can feel any part of his spirit still with us, and she says no. I must admit I can feel nothing, but I hold onto the false hope that comes with seeing his body still alive. Of course it is illusion only; the bullet was of the variety that explodes upon hitting its target, so not only did it crash through his head but it exploded inside, and he is now missing a large bit of physical brain matter. All we can do is pray for the miracle it will take to bring him back

The doctors have been ridiculously evasive. Even his family has had a hard time receiving updates on his condition. A rabbi from Rabbis for Human Rights came and visited yesterday, and he was able to corner a doctor and speak to him in Hebrew. He reported that only the very basics of his brain are still functioning. His reflexes work enough to allow the machines to keep his lungs and heart working, but there is no other activity besides that. I believe that this is the definition of brain dead. The doctor was not hopeful and neither am I. I suppose his family and friends have to be, they have nothing else to be. Michelle and Nathan say they'll stay as long as he stays, and go wherever he goes, until he leaves for the place to which no one can follow him.

The Israeli military have yet to come up with a decent story. Most articles I read say, " IDF refuses to comment. " Some imply that he may have been armed, and there are rumors that they meant to assassinate our Palestinian coordinator, as though a Palestinian involved in non-violent civil disobedience is a more legitimate target. A Jerusalem Post article quoted some IDF commander who said Tom was a member of some made-up Egyptian terrorist group that uses internationals as fighters, and that he was attacking the soldiers when they shot him in self-defense. I suppose this " armed militia " finds it intelligent to dress fighters in high-visibility fluorescent gear. Indeed, the weapon Tom had was much more dangerous to the IDF than a gun - a camera.

One doctor is trying to cast doubt on whether it was really a bullet that so severely injured him. One doctor came out positively that it was, but was quickly pulled into a private room with two other doctors, and came out saying that it's possible the wound was inflicted by a harsh blow to the head, like that of a baseball bat. That the doctors would lie so shamelessly and blatantly shouldn't be surprising; as Billy puts it, " He's being treated by the same bastards that shot him " .

Outside the respiratory ward currently keeping Tom alive, we hang out mostly with Palestinians. Israeli Palestinians mainly, but there is also a lovely fellow named Sahd, who's actually from Gaza City. His brother was shot in the shoulder, chest and side over a month ago, and is now in a similar condition as Tom, deteriorating as time goes by. It took tons of negotiating to allow him and his brother to be at this Israeli hospital, and costs the Palestinian Authority 3500 NIS (about $700) a day to keep him there. Sahd is forbidden to leave the ward of the hospital where his brother is staying; an armed guard reprimands him if he should venture beyond that space. He's been there for 44 days, and lives in what is officially the smoking room, a partially enclosed public corner of the hall. Friends he has made in the hospital - mostly Israeli Palestinians, but also a few Israeli Jews - bring him food and other necessities. He is truly a Palestinian, and has treated us with the hospitality of a Gazan. He lets us sit and sleep on his mattresses, makes us tea and coffee, and always tries to share his limited food supply. The room

is a microcosm of Gaza: hard, small, cramped, enclosed and chocked of its resources. We joke that the situation is all too representative: in the middle of this beautiful, western hospital constructed to care for Israelis, the Palestinian is given a tiny little box with no resources and placed under strict control.

Tom's mother and father went to visit the Gaza Strip yesterday. They drove down to Rafah, armed with a convoy of bulletproof jeeps and armed guards from the PA and the British embassy and were back by evening. His parents look tired mostly but not distraught, all of us do our own compartmentalizing. They went to the place where it happened, they saw the stream of his blood tracing the street and the bullet holes in the door of the next building. As for his brother, Billy, he is withdrawn and angry at the world and has it in for journalists and Israeli soldiers who pass by. His face is a mirror of Tom's face, but he wears his hair long, in a ponytail, and hides in the shadow of his cap. Before this, he was working in carpentry to save up some money to go traveling, like his brother.

Anyhow, I feel really disconnected all the time, not only now, and I wonder how much of it has to do with living in Rafah. Everyday there is tragedy and you come frighteningly close to death and if you want to be productive you have to dissociate, to swallow your grief in teaspoonfuls and not watch Al Jazeera too closely. And now Tom is wavering on the line between life and death and it all kind of accumulates, his hospital bed underlines the experience of his many weeks in Palestine, affirms the question in all of our heads... this can't be happening? This happened. It was. This happens. It is.

Today we are staying here on the kibbutz almost all day after sitting straight through midnight yesterday in the hospital corridors. It is our last day, we will say goodbye to Tom and then leave tomorrow morning for Jerusalem for Pesach (Passover). Do you ever understand the meaning? Once we were slaves, now we are free? What does it mean for someone who has never wanted for choices or freedom, but a glimpse into some foreign meaning in history of my own roots... I don't know, maybe it's something you understand better as you age and acquire the scars of past pains. "Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned."

  • Edna St. Vincent Millay

" It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. " Robert F. Kennedy