It was sheer chance that I watched Rowan Joffe’s powerful film, The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall, at home the same night when Oscars were being awarded. In fact, my watching it was also by chance, since I knew nothing about it. I had seen it listed in the Netflix catalog, and since the director’s surname seemed familiar had sent for it. Only later did I discover that I had confused the son with the father. Roland Joffe is the maker of such acclaimed films as The Killing Fields and The Mission. Rowan Joffe is his son, and a filmmaker in his own right. The two apparently share the same concern and passion for justice.
Thomas Hurndall was a young British photographer and activist who was volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement in occupied Palestine in 2003. On April 11, 2003, he was shot in the head in Gaza by an Israeli army sniper from one of the army watchtowers. Left in a coma, Hurndall eventually died in January 2004. He was barely 23. The man who killed him was 20.
The film (available on the internet) is as much about Hurndall and his family as about the trained sniper, Sgt. Taysir Hayb, who happened to be an Arab Beduin, . Most emphatically it is about the ordeal the two families underwent at the hands of the callously ruthless state of Israel and its army. Hurndall’s story did not make any headline in the United States, where even the story of its own Rachel Corrie—a tragedy of a similar nature—has not received any artistic tribute. But both Corrie and Hurndall received due attention in U.K, and in the latter’s case also some strong responses from its political establishment, the like of which was scant here in the United States concerning Corrie. Of course the most disgraceful example of the pusillanimous attitude of those who most whoop up ‘Triumphant America’ in the United States concerns the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in which 34 American sailors were killed in the line of duty. Hollywood is yet to spend a penny or a moment on that dastardly incident. Its shame lies not in ignoring the plight of the Palestinian victims of Israeli occupation but in its utter neglect of even its American victims. Again, BBC has an hour-long film, “Death in the Water,” about it on the Internet.
Incidentally, this year’s Oscars race featured two ‘Triumphant America’ films. One of them got the top prize. Israel had two finalists in the Documentary category. Both were denied the honor of an award. The great Israeli journalist Uri Avnery explains why in his admirable way.