Charges could mean visiting dignitaries would be arrested for suffering inflicted on intercepted ship.
The only South African passenger on the Mavi Marmara, one of the Gaza-bound ships intercepted at sea by the Israelis in May last year, has laid a formal complaint with the national director of public prosecutions about her alleged suffering at the hands of the Israeli army.
If the National Prosecuting Authority acts on the complaint of Gadija Davids, a Cape Town-based journalist, top Israeli politicians and soldiers could face arrest if they visit South Africa.
This is the second attempt by locals in two weeks to call members of the Israeli executive to account in South Africa. Two local organisations called for the arrest of former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who was due to arrive in the country last week. Her trip was cancelled at the last minute, although the South African Jewish Board of Deputies ascribed this to a strike by diplomats at the Israeli embassy.
Davids alleges that she was assaulted and that fellow passengers were subjected to inhumane treatment and torture after Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying supplies to blockaded Gaza. She wants the perpetrators prosecuted. Nine Turkish nationals were killed in the raid.
Israel said the killings occurred in self-defence and an Israeli inquiry found that the raid did not breach international law.
But a United Nations fact-finding mission found that the interception was unlawful and that several violations, including wilful killing and injury, were committed.
“[Davids] was handcuffed with a plastic tie, interrogated by the Israeli authorities, refused access to the South African embassy, which she requested, and refused access to a lawyer,” attorney Ziyaad Patel said this week. Patel said Davids was also a witness to torture and other inhumane treatment.
The complaint, lodged at the NPA’s office in the presence of the South African Police Service, calls for Davids’s allegations to be investigated and for those who took part in the attack to be identified.
“This could go from soldiers on the ship to Cabinet members,” said Patel. Under the Rome Statute, to which South Africa is a signatory, the SAPS is obliged to arrest and prosecute anyone responsible for crimes against a South African citizen if the perpetrator enters the country.
“A formal process to request extradition of such offenders can also be done through the office of the national director of public prosecutions and the authorities in Israel,” Patel said, although, she added, Israel was unlikely to permit the extradition of its citizens.
The complaint specifically mentions the Israeli chief of general staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The same individuals who are accused in Davids’s complaint are referred to in the UN Fact Finding Report on the flotilla attacks. Davids’s complaint is backed by IHH, a Turkish aid organisation that helped organise the Gaza ships.
But Avrom Krengel, chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, says the complaint is “another attempt to intimidate fellow South Africans”. He disputes Davids’s allegations, pointing to the findings of the Turkel Commission released this week. The Israeli government investigation into the attack concluded that the interception was legal.
Comment could not be obtained from the Israeli embassy, where diplomats are still on strike.