An Israeli Army committee cut the prison sentence for Taysir Heib, a former soldier, who was convicted of manslaughter and other charges in relation to the shooting of a British peace activist.A former Israeli soldier will be released years earlier than expected after he was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of British peace activist Thomas Hurndall.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that former soldier Taysir Heib received an eight year sentence in 2005 for manslaughter, in addition to obstruction of justice and giving false testimony. Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelbit, a Brigadier General, opposed his early release, but the decision to shorten his sentence was made by an army committee.
Hurndall, aged 22 at the time of his death, was shot in the head while photographing activists from the International Solidarity Movement. At the time, Hurndall had been helping Palestinian children keep a safe distance from Israeli tanks.
Heib initially claimed that he fired on an armed Palestinian and this testimony was vetted by another soldier from his unit. The soldier who supported Heib’s initial claim later told Military Police investigators that he did not witness the shooting.
The judges examined Heib’s contradictory and false statements and found that he had given a ‘confused and pathetic’ rendition of the incident to the court.
The court’s investigation found that Heib confessed that he wanted to punish Hurndall for entering a forbidden area. Using a sniper rifle with a telescopic sight, Heib claims he aimed 10 centimeters to the left of Hurndall’s head to scare him, but accidentally shot the activist.
Activists from the International Solidarity Movement often use their bodies as human shields to protect Palestinian civilians when attacked by the Israeli military. Tom was shot in the head while trying to evacuate Palestinian children who were caught by Israeli army fire in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah in 2003.
Hurndall’s older sister, Sophie, said that her family wasn’t informed by Israeli authorities about Heib’s release. Instead, the news was delivered by the British foreign office. She said, “We have not had time to regroup or work out what is going on. We have barely had time to process the news and we all feel angry and shocked,” she said, adding that they had long feared such a thing would happen. “We have had to deal with cover ups and lies and a total lack of accountability throughout – and this is in line with that. It’s symptomatic.”
She added that the family was not so much angry about Heib’s actions, but rather the Israeli Military and the Israeli authorities’ lax stance when it comes to harming civilians. “To be honest, it’s about the system. Not the man himself. This man who shot Tom was the same age as him. He is both the victim and the killer. He is part of a system that proactively encouraged soldier to target civilian,’ she said.
According to Hurndall, Heib’s early release sends a message to Israeli soldiers that they can act with impunity. This attitude is expanded on the global level with Israel’s general indifference to criticism from the international community: “So many innocent [people] killed in so many horrific ways. They just don’t seem to care about anyone.”
Hurndall further expressed her anger at and disappointment in her own government, which at the time was led by Tony Blair, “It’s incredibly sad. One of the things that happened to me since my brother was killed is that I have lost faith in humanity. I cannot believe that people can do such things, and that my own government can sit by and keep quiet,’ she said.
Responding to Hurndall’s anger, the British Foreign Office issued an official statement saying, ‘We note the court’s decision today to release Taysir Heib and recognize the grief this decision will cause to the Hurndall family. We have the deepest of sympathies for the Hurndall family. Tom’s death was a tragedy.’