IDF Soldier Convicted of Killing U.K. Activist in Gaza Released From Jail

Taysir Hayb found guilty of manslaughter over the April 2003 shooting of Thomas Hurndall during an International Solidarity Movement protest in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah.

An Israel Defense Forces soldier found guilty of manslaughter in the 2003 death of a British peace activist was released Wednesday, after serving three quarters of his sentence.

Sgt. Taysir Hayb in court in 2005. Inset, the activist Thomas Hurndall in Gaza in 2003.
David Bachar

Sgt. Taysir Hayb's early release was secured last month, after a military committee overruled the Military Advocate General's opinion and ordered the soldier's release. He has served six years of the eight-year sentence he received in 2005.

Thomas Hurndall, then 22, was shot in April 2003 while photographing an International Solidarity Movement protest in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah, where Hayb was stationed in a watchtower as part of the Bedouin Reconnaissance Battalion. Hurndall died the following year after a nine-month coma.

A military court found Hayb, now 27, had violated orders in shooting the activist. In addition to manslaughter, he was convicted of obstruction of justice and false testimony.

Military Advocate General Avichai Mendelblit opposed Hayb's early release, citing the potential damage such a move could cause to Israel's relations with Great Britain.

Nonetheless, a Southern Command military tribunal headed by Col. Erez Porat decided to release Hayb after all three panel members ruled that he had been sufficiently rehabilitated. The same committee had rejected several prior requests for Hayb's early release.

"We welcome the ruling and are pleased that the committee viewed Hayb's rehabilitation as the decisive factor, rather than military or diplomatic considerations, which are irrelevant to this case," the soldier's attorney said.

In a statement released last month, the British Foreign Office said: "We note the court's decision today to release Taysir Hayb 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."