NGOs in SA press for charges over Israel's Gaza offensive

Two NGOs want about 70 individuals with South African links prosecuted for involvement in alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the Gaza war late last year.

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said at a press briefing in Newtown, Johannesburg, on Wednesday: “The request appeals to the authorities to investigate, and if appropriate prosecute, in South Africa individuals involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.”

The Palestinian Solidarity Alliance (PSA) and the Media Review Network (MRN) are listed as complainants in an affidavit handed to the NPA. Kasrils was speaking in support of the initiative at the briefing hosted by the MRN.

About 70 individuals are listed in the affidavit for prosecution. Their names have been withheld as they are suspects.

The only person who has been named is Lieutenant Colonel David Benjamin, who is currently in South Africa for Limmud, a series of dialogues on Jewish opinion and belief. Kasrils said Benjamin “appears to have associated himself with the planning and commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Operation Cast Lead”.

The PSA and MRN have called for Benjamin’s immediate arrest; their legal teams have already made three requests to the NPA for the South Africa-born Israeli soldier’s arrest.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation rejected the call for Benjamin to be prosecuted. “This amounts to little more than a clumsy attempt at manipulating the judiciary for partisan political purposes. Politically motivated attempts to undermine judicial independence as well as freedom of expression in South Africa should be universally condemned, as should any moves to import a foreign conflict to its South African streets,” they said in a statement.

The request to file charges was made in terms of section five of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, which was domesticated through the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act in 2002. The NGOs say the government has a legal obligation to act on the statute. South Africa is one of only three countries to have domesticated the Rome Statute. Yousha Tayob, an attorney acting for the NGOs, said the matter is likely to “test our foreign policy”.

The NGOs’ request is supported by approximately 3 500 pages of evidence, including evidence by Human Rights Watch on the “brutal military onslaught on Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force”.

The MRN and the PSA sought legal advice from international jurists Professor John Dugard and Professor Max du Plessis.

The request covered three areas: the alleged commission of war crimes, the crime of apartheid and the investigation of foreign and local individuals who participated in these alleged crimes during Operation Cast Lead.

About 1 400 people, mostly civilians, were killed during the Israeli offensive in Gaza from December 27 2008 to January 17 2009.

“Evidence collected from eyewitnesses and those injured as well as United Nations and other investigative reports ... provide compelling proof that suggests Israelis have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Kasrils said.

He added that it was South Africans’ duty and responsibility to take actions against the “apartheid state of Israel”. He said there was sufficient evidence in the affidavit to the NPA to justify a full and proper investigation into the perpetrators of alleged war crimes.

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