South Africa Rejects Livni Arrest Call

An application by two South African groups for the arrest of Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, who was due to vist the country later this week, has been turned down by the South African police’s special investigation division.

The Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA) and the Media Review Network (MRN) had called for Livni’s arrest and prosecution for alleged war crimes over the role she played in Israel’s war on Gaza during the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, found that 1,387 Palestinians were killed in the war on Gaza, including 773 civilians, 330 combatants, 248 policemen and 36 people whom the group was unable to classify as combatants or non-combatants.

Thirteen Israelis died during Israel’s "Operation Cast Lead" offensive.

‘Insufficient Grounds’

McIntosh Polela, a spokesman for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), also known as the Hawks, said the application by the PSA and MRN had been refused because "there are insufficient grounds for us to obtain a warrant of arrest".

Polela confirmed that the DPCI had jurisdiction to obtain an arrest warrant as requested by the two organisations.

However, he said that the law required that Livni, who cancelled her visit earlier on Wednesday, be in the country for the DPCI to begin an investigation into the allegations of war crimes against her.

"We have concluded that it would be highly irresponsible for us to obtain a warrant of arrest without following the letter of the law," said Polela.

The postponement of Livni’s visit was announced by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD).

Livni, who was foreign minister at the time of the war on Gaza, had been invited to South Africa by the local Jewish community.

‘Mounting Pressure’

The SAJBD said that Livni, who is the leader of Israel’s Kadima party, had postponed her visit due to a labour strike in Israel.

Zev Krengel, the chairman of the SAJBD, said Livni’s decision "had nothing whatsoever to do with threats by local anti-Israel activists".

The SA Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) said that the visit had been postponed due to the calls for Livni’s arrest.

"While the SA Zionist Federation claims [the postponement] is due to travel issues, it is also as a result of the mounting pressure from pro-human rights activists calling for her arrest," Tahir Sema, a SAMWU spokesman, said in a statement.

"As the coalition for a Free Palestine we will do all that it takes to ensure that those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations do not set foot in our country, regardless of whether the perpetrator is from Israel or Swaziland."

On Sunday, Iqbal Jassat, the chairperson of the MRN, told Al Jazeera that the application for the arrest warrant was in pursuant of an earlier submission filed with South African prosecutors in August 2009.

‘Extensive Complaints’

Jassat said the submission was an "extensive compilation of complaints in excess of 3,000 pages containing a wide variety of substantial documentation including evidential material and affidavits from victims" that alleged Livni was one of the architects of the war on Gaza.

"We had also asked for an investigation involving members of the South African Jewish community suspected of violating the country’s Foreign Mercenary Act," he said, adding that investigations are ongoing.

"Livni’s track record as a perpetrator of war crimes stems from her official leadership roles in various capacities," he added.

Jassat said the move has received overwhelming support from civil society groups including the leadership of the Cape Town-based Muslim Judicial Council, whom he said has expressed fear that emotions may run over if Livni was to visit Cape Town as scheduled.

In December 2009 a British court reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Livni on similar charges, but later withdrew it after discovering she was not in the country.

Livni was initially scheduled to travel to London for an event organise by the Jewish National Fund, followed by meetings with British government officials.

She cancelled the trip two weeks before the event, and Israeli media said she called off the visit for fear of being arrested.
(Al Jazeera and Agencies)

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