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Cape Town - South African authorities have warned that they will prosecute anyone found to be illegally participating in the Palestinian conflict with Israel, after scores of locals are believed to have taken up arms in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and also in Afghanistan and west Africa, in contravention of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act.
This comes after pro-Palestinian advocacy group Action Forum in Support of Palestine this week opened a case against Capetonian Dean Goodson, who they allege is serving in the Israeli army.
In the coming week, the group’s Shaheed Mahomed said, they planned to open cases against at least four others believed to be serving illegally in the IDF.
According to the Act which regulates the involvement of South Africans in armed conflicts beyond SA’s borders, anyone found guilty could face jail.
Only the Defence minister, on the recommendation of the National Conventional Arms Control committee (NCAC), can grant permission to serve in conflicts abroad.
The Defence Department has revealed that while it has not granted permission to any South African to participate in the current Middle East conflict, it is aware that some may be doing so without clearance.
South Africans were also believed to be participating in conflicts in Afghanistan and west Africa.
The Action Forum in Support of Palestine’s Mahomed and Saifudeen Bester opened the
case against Goodson at Cape Town Central Police Station.
“The spirit of the Act is to prevent citizens of South Africa from being directly or indirectly involved in human rights violations outside the country. I am hereby calling for the prosecution of Dean Goodson for participating in criminal acts against citizens in Gaza,” said Mahomed. Goodson could not be reached for comment, but an individual on Facebook with the same name remarked that it was not a crime to serve in the IDF.
A Durban resident, who recently moved to Israel to enlist in the armed forces, told Weekend Argus’s sister title The Sunday Tribune that it was his “responsibility to serve in the IDF”.
“While I respect people’s right to have an opinion on South Africans serving in the IDF, I don’t agree that we should be prosecuted. I see it as my duty to serve here,” said the enlisted soldier, who asked not be named.
He said he was adjusting to his new environment, and that despite “war fatigue” setting in, the IDF enjoyed the support of the Israeli public.
Western Cape police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Andre Traut confirmed that a docket had been opened, and that the matter was being investigated. Another source said the matter was being looked into at a “high level”.
In addition to personnel assistance, the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act also forbids South Africans from offering medical or security services in conflict zones without authorisation.
This is not the first time the possible involvement of South Africans in the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been highlighted.
In 2008 advocacy groups Media Review Network (MRN) and Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA) compiled what was referred to as the Gaza Docket, which was forwarded to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
The dossier called for the prosecution of those responsible for human rights abuses during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which took place from December 2008 to January 2009. It was also alleged that 73 South Africans were serving in the IDF illegally. The allegations were investigated by the police, but the NPA chose not to prosecute due to a lack of evidence.
Yousha Tayob, who was part of the legal team that represented the MRN and PSA in the matter, said the police investigations were weak.
“All we wanted was for the police to interview these guys… ask them if they were in Israel during that time. In a matter like this it’s up to the police to do their investigations,” he said.
NPA spokesman Nathi Mncube said the matter involving the Gaza Docket was still open. While the evidence against the 73 suspects was initially not strong enough, those who were found to be serving illegally in the Middle East could still be prosecuted.
The Defence ministry said it was aware of South Africans who were flouting the law.
“I don’t know of anyone who has sought permission. … Any decision is made based on recommendations of NCAC to the minister of Defence,” spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said.
“We are aware of South African citizens who have enlisted in other defence forces. When there are challenges they come to us and say “I’ve had my legs blown off” or “Hamas has bombed me”, and they ask for our intervention. Then we say to them, who deployed you there? It was not us. Go and ask whoever deployed you there for compensation,” he said.
Many of those serving abroad had ignored warnings from the government.
The IDF did not respond to questions on South Africans enlisted in their forces. – Additional reporting by Kevin Farley.