By Aisha Mouneimne – Cape Town
A groundbreaking application to the National Prosecuting Authority and to the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation was launched on Wednesday in Johannesburg by various Palestinian lobbyists. The Palestinian Solidarity Committee, Media Review Network and various other NGO’s are requesting that South African citizens who took part in Israel’s 22 day bombardment on Gaza be charged with war crimes.
Previous hurdles in investigating claims that South African citizens were illegally serving in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) have in the past been met with complications, mainly due to South African-born IDF soldiers holding duel citizenship in both countries.
But Naeem Jeenah, Executive Director of the Afro Middle East Centre said that with the investigation now evolving around alleged war crimes, “nationality is no longer relevant.”
“Whether those accused are South Africans or Israeli is irrelevant if they committed war crimes in terms of the Rome Statute. They can be put on trail in South Africa…this is a treaty in which South Africa is a signatory to. (This means) South Africa has legislation in which to process even foreigners who have committed war crimes in a foreign country,” he said.
Jeenah said the same applied for Lieutenant David Benjamin, whose immediate arrest is being called for on the grounds of being directly involved in Operation Cast Lead as a military legal advisor during the invasion of Gaza in 2008.
“He is South African born, but is currently serving on the IDF’s Military Advocacy Core and has been providing all the legal justifications for all the attacks in Gaza. And this is why we have put out for his immediate arrest.”
He said he expected action to first be taken against Benjamin and then the other 70 people who are expected of involvement in war crimes. “If some of these 70 people are now Israeli citizens, if they return to South Africa ever, they should be arrested on landing…this is irrespective of their age or rank in the army,”
Meanwhile, the Muslim Judicial Counsel (MJC) has thrown its weight behind the initiative, reiterating a statement made by former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, of South Africa’s responsibility to the Palestinian cause.
“This is not just a Muslim concern; it is a concern about crimes committed against humanity. The Palestinians were at the forefront of our struggle for liberation during Apartheid and therefore all South Africans should move in accordance with the same struggle that we had in this country,” said Moulana Ighsaan Hendricks, president of the MJC.
He added that this initiative was particularly unique to South Africans, as it was the first time in history that charges of apartheid crimes outside South Africa would be investigated.
In response to calls for Benjamin’s arrest, Bev Goldman, spokesperson for the South African Zionist Federation said:
“The attempt by the militant PSC and MRN to call David Benjamin to be charged and removed from the country not only challenges their constant calls for freedom of speech, but also forms part of their continuous campaign to demonise Israel.”
She said that there seemed to be a definite move to prevent Israel from explaining its actions during the Gaza war and that constant bad press on Israel has caused hesitance amongst the public to support the Israeli cause.
Goldman is adamant that no South Africans have been involved in the IDF and that if any had gone over, it would have been as a “religious support team” and not as a fighting unit. “But if they were to become citizens of Israel they would be perfectly entitled to serve in the army,” she said.
When asked on the implications of South African soldiers charged with war crimes, Goldman said “I can’t even answer that at this stage it is totally hypothetical.”
– Aisha Mouneimne is a journalist and freelance writer currently working for a Cape Town based Muslim radio station. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.