Why SA civil society groups are pressing ahead with charging Israeli leaders with war crimes
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While a ceasefire is in place between Israel and Hamas as of 2am Friday morning, the effects of the bombardment of civilians will be felt for years to come, and the destruction of peoples’ lives, homes, the murder of family members, many of them children, will írreversibly scare the next generation of Palestinians living in Gaza.
The psychological effects on Palestinian children is overwhelming, and the inability of parents in so many families to provide for them now that their homes and possessions have been destroyed by Israeli bombs is acutely dire. Employment is near impossible to find in Gaza, so tens of thousands will be living at the mercy of aid agencies and the UN relief agency, which simply cannot cope.
Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza say 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed and more than 1 900 wounded in aerial bombardments. Over 1 800 homes and six high rise buildings have been destroyed, with 90 000 Palestinians having been displaced. Authorities put the death toll in Israel at 12, with hundreds of people treated for injuries from rocket attacks.
South Africa has hit back at the bombardment of civilian areas, with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor saying in her annual budget vote to Parliament on Thursday: “The cruel bombings and killings of the innocent we witnessed in the past two weeks are a sad testimony of the cruel impunity the world has granted to Israel. The international community must stop this impunity. South Africa should support the International Criminal Court in the planned investigation of the abuse of human rights by the Israeli government. We hope sanctions and other measures to show the world’s offence at this brutality will soon be evident.”
Pandor’s statement comes on the heels of the strongest yet condemnation by the President Cyril Ramaphosa of Israel. Ramaphosa said in a recent interview that when South Africans see the images of people being driven out of their homes before their homes are bombed, we can’t but help to side with the Palestinians. “The way they have been denying Palestinians their rights, bombing the area, and unleashing terror, one could quite easily characterize it as being some type of apartheid state.”
Civil society and human rights groups have been calling for Israel to be held accountable for its recent and ongoing violations of international law and human rights abuses. Africa4Palestine has been supporting the Palestinian call for Israel to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, and says it will be with community members and various organisations including the ANC, SACP, COSATU and others throughout this weekend at Palestine solidarity events in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.
South African civil rights organisations have also launched an urgent legal request to the National Prosecuting Authority to probe and charge Israeli leaders for crimes committed against Palestinians. Dubbed the "Al Aqsa Docket", the applicants "Palestine Solidarity Alliance" (PSA) and "Media Review Network" (MRN) have been joined by Palestinian academic Dr Haidar Eid who is based in Gaza. They are calling on the government of South Africa's Director of Public Prosecutions, head of the Priority Crimes Unit, as well as the Minister of Police to investigate and refer the complaint to the International Criminal Court.
The complainants seek the prosecution of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, army generals, soldiers, police commanders, officers and political leaders. In their comprehensive legal arguments, they insist that because war criminals are considered under international law to be enemies of all humankind, the complainants have an interest in the prohibition of such crimes.
One of the reasons they advance in support of the application, is that it is driven by public interest concern. “Without effective prosecution of those guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes, there is a risk of South Africa becoming a safe haven for such criminals, able to travel here freely with impunity,” the complainants have said.
While legal appeals are being made to charge Israeli leaders with war crimes, South African trade unions and pro-Palestinian groups protested on Friday morning on the Durban beachfront to protest the docking of an Israeli ship, and to support the decision of members of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) to boycott the offloading of the ship. SATAWU had informed Transnet of their refusal to offload the cargo. The Zim Shanghai, owned by Israeli state-owned company Zim Lines, docked in Durban on Wednesday night. The action against the ship is part of a global set of actions against Zim Lines. The protests also target Transnet, demanding that the parastatal not allow goods to or from Israel to pass through South African ports.
The trade union federations, unions and other organisations that have pledged their support for these actions are: SAFTU, COSATU, SATAWU, NUMSA, SAPU, NUPSAW, FAWU, THORN, DETAWU, TASWU, DEMAWUSA, The Coalition of the Poor, Ubunye BamaHostela, Abahlali Base Mjondolo, KZN Subsistence Fisherfolks, Right2Know, Market Users Committee, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, Assonet (Migrant Communities), SASCO, People Against Oppression, and Groundwork Friends of the Earth South Africa.
Solidarity marches in capitals around the world are scheduled to be held this weekend in solidarity with the Palestinians. Tens of thousands of people from around the world already took to the streets from New York to London, from Cape Town to Auckland, demanding an end to the deady Israeli air raids on the Gaza strip. A major march is also being planned in Tokyo this weekend.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor of Independent Media.