tom hurndall memorial lecture report

by Mark Harrison (originally written for Manchester Stop the War)

“What do I want from this life? What makes you happy is not enough. All the things that satisfy our instincts only satisfy the animal in us. I want to be proud of myself. I want more. I want to look up to myself and when I die, I want to smile because of the things I have done, not cry for the things I haven’t done.”
Tom Hurndall (2000)

palestinewall

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in the town of Qalandiya in the occupied West Bank, a group of masked activists used a lorry to pull down a two meter cement block from the Israeli separation barrier before Israeli security forces confronted them with tear gas grenades.(1)

In Manchester, activists from across the city gathered at Manchester Metropolitan University for the Fifth Tom Hurndall Memorial Lecture.

Tom, born North London, November 1981, was studying photographic journalism at MMU when he decided to take part in the Human shield action to Iraq whom he had met during the million strong anti war march in London, (promising his faculty head that he would still meet coursework deadlines).(2)

Excerpts from his journal show that he was an internationalist and not a stooge of Saddam, “Things I’ve heard and seen over the last few weeks proves what I already knew; neither the Iraqi regime, nor the American or British, are clean. Maybe Saddam needs to go but … the air war that’s proposed is largely unnecessary and doesn’t discriminate between civilians and armed soldiers. Tens of thousands will die, maybe hundreds of thousands”.(3)

Once war became inevitable he moved to Jordan where he helped build temporary refugee shelters and donated £500 for medical supplies. It was in Jordan that he met the International Solidarity Movement and he decided to travel to Gaza. It was in the border town of Rafah that Tom was killed by Taysir Hayb whilst saving children who were paralysed with fear from IDF gunfire. Tom’s murder provoked international attention, his mother, Jocelyn, has written how in the ‘occupied territories’ different value is attached to life depending if the victim is a Palestinian or a westerner.(4)

I contacted Jocelyn earlier this year and was easily able to persuade her to speak at this year’s lecture, just by talking to her I could feel a sense of kindness that is not in abundance these days, a quality which I am sure would have been passed down to her son and would explain why he gave his life defending others.

During her address she said that ever since April of 2003 there has been a ‘thread’ connecting her from London to Manchester, she remarked that there was a tremendous feeling of warmth within the university and could understand why her son loved the city so much. ‘Joss’ thanked the current students of MMU for continuing to carry out actions of solidarity – last year Man Met was part of the wave of occupations which spread across the country during Israel’s winter offensive in Gaza, members of Communist Students, Permanent Revolution, the Socialist Workers Party, Action Palestine and individual students occupied the very building in which the memorial lecture took place and amongst other things demanded more recognition of Tom’s life from the university. During the occupation, John Brooks the university’s VC had the nerve to warn us against contacting Tom’s family and said they might find it emotionally stressful.

This year’s lecture was presented by Avi Shlaim, one of Israel’s leading ‘New Historians’. He paid tribute to Tom’s actions and contrasted his search for truth and human rights to the cynicism and crass opportunism of Blair, Brown and Jack Straw.

Manchester is a city in which the idea of a one state solution has an unusually high amount of support, an idea which Shlaim described as noble but a, “pie in the sky”.

Professor Shlaim’s lecture focused on the creation of Israel, the war of ’67 and the Oslo Accords. The professor defendes the right of Israel to her pre-67 borders, in part due to the horrors of the Holocaust, however he described the Balfour Declaration as one of the greatest betrayals of history and uses the term Nakba to describe events of 1948. He went on to call the six-day war a war of defence, however since this time the Israeli government has blocked any path to peace by erecting illegal settlements within Palestine, he also explained how the, “historic compromise” reached in The Oslo Accords made no reference to Jerusalem, an independent Palestinian state or the right of return for 1948 refugees.

Finally, Avi Shlaim spoke of what he calls, “politicide” – denying Palestinians independent existence in Palestine, moreover he elaborated that after Israel’s withdrawl from Gaza they still occupy the area according to international law.

The Tom Hurndall Memorial Lectures are administered by Professor Jules Townshend – author of ‘The Politics of Marxism’, (Leicester University Press, 1996)

1. ‘Palestinians break Israel’s wall’,
http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2009/11/2009119151639325464.html (Accessed 11/11/09)

2. C. Arrindell, ‘Tom Hurndall’,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2004/jan/22/guardianobituaries.israel (Accessed 11/11/09)

3. R. Fisk, ‘A brave man who stood alone. If only the world had listened to him’,
http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fisk/robert-fiskrsquos-world-a-brave-man-who-stood-alone-if-only-the-world-had-listened-to-him-1656067.html (Accessed 11/11/09)

4. J. Hurndall, ‘What price a life?’.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/jan/10/comment/print (Accessed 11/11/09)