[intro]The Executive Producer at Radio 786, Gadija Davids has reported on the frontlines of an incident that has led to South Africa and Turkey banding together to issue warrant of arrests for implicated Israeli commanders. Foreign editor of Independent Newspapers, Shannon Ebrahim, explains that this move sets an important international precedent. This article first appeared in the newspapers of the Independent Media.[/intro]

South Africa has pledged to enforce Turkey’s issuing of arrest warrants against four Israeli commanders from the Israeli Navy and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). In a move that sets an important international legal precedent, Turkey is seeking the arrest of the Israeli commanders for their involvement in the 2010 Israeli attacks on the Mavi Marmara aid ship which led to the deaths of nine humanitarian activists. Turkey has welcomed South Africa’s decision to enforce the arrest warrants.

“SAPS has sent a clear message to Israel that it can no longer continue carrying out war crimes with impunity, and South Africa will protect the rights of its citizens,” SA Attorney on record Ziyaad Patel told Independent Media from Turkey. The South African Police Service has confirmed in writing that they will enforce the warrants of arrests if the following Israeli military chiefs enter South African territory: Chief of General Staff  Rau Ashkenazi, Naval Forces Commander Eliezer Marom, Head of Airforce Intelligence Brigadier General Avishay Levi, and Major General Chief of IDF Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin.

An arrest alert notice for the four was circulated to the South African Border Control system on September 3rd, and the information has been forwarded to Interpol South Africa to liaise with Interpol in Turkey for a red notice to be issued. Following the arrest of any of the four charged with war crimes, South Africa would grant Turkey’s request for extradition.

Gadija Davids

The arrest warrants have struck at the heart of the IDF, and sent shock waves through the Israeli political establishment. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed his diplomacy department to get to work on getting the warrants dismissed.  The decision by Turkey and South Africa to arrest what they deem to be Israeli war criminals will reverberate across Europe, where citizens of the UK, Spain, Greece, and Sweden were also victims of the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara. “South Africa’s decision will have a major impact internationally as there were over 700 victims in the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla,” Patel said.

The four high ranking IDF commanders against whom the arrest warrants have been issued also played major roles in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead which massacred 1 400 Palestinians in Gaza in 2009. The UN called the Israeli war on Gaza a systematic campaign of terror and wanton destruction.

South African journalist Gadija Davids was on board the Mavi Marmara with a group of journalists when it was attacked in 2010. The Mavi Marmara was part of the first ever aid flotilla destined for Gaza which sought to break the siege on the coastal strip by delivering much needed humanitarian aid and medical supplies. At the time the Israelis were restricting aid coming into Gaza.

Davids recounted the morning of the attack, “On 31st May 2010, Israeli commandoes boarded the ships, and we were told to stay in the women’s quarters. We heard calls on the sound system asking the Israelis to stop attacking, and that we were unarmed. A few hours later we were told to come upstairs and I saw blood on the walls, and three bodies wrapped in white sheets lying on the floor.”

“Military helicopters hovered over the ship, and naval boats surrounding the Mavi. The Israeli commandoes on board the ship were heavily armed and wearing balaclavas. We were taken up in groups to the top of the ship to sit in the sun, were handcuffed and made to sit there for several hours. When we were allowed back into the cabins, our belongings were strewn across the floor and we weren’t allowed to pick them up. The Israelis had switched off the suction on the plumbing, and also turned off the air conditioning,” Davids told Independent Media.

Davids and the other surviving journalists were forced into a cockroach infested van and taken against their will to Ashdod, where they ended up spending nearly two days in an Israeli prison. Davids and the others were harshly interrogated by their Israeli captors, and denied consular access.

“The experience made me acutely aware of the kind of brutality that Palestinians experience on a daily basis at the hands of Israelis,” Davids said.

Davids laid her first complaint with the SAPS and NPA in January 2011. In November 2012 the NPA found that in terms of South Africa’s ratification of the Rome Statute, the case met the necessary jurisdictional requirements, and that reasonable grounds existed to investigate the alleged crimes that were committed during the Israeli attack on the ship.

Independent Media contacted Israeli Ambassador Arthur Lenk on Wednesday for comment on the issue of South Africa’s willingness to enforce the Turkish warrants of arrest. Ambassador Lenk initially said that the ‘enemies of Israel’ like the Media Review Network (MRN) and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions South Africa (BDS) were lying to the media, and that there was no such letter from SAPS stating that South Africa would enforce the Turkish arrest warrants.
When Independent Media confirmed that it had sight of the letter and also confirmation from SAPS that South Africa will indeed enforce the arrest warrants, Ambassador Lenk responded saying, “I have much respect for South Africa’s legal system and full confidence that it will not allow its system to be abused or politicised.”

Israel considers international legal proceedings against it as one of its greatest threats. Daniel Reisner, who has served as the Head of the IDF’s International Law Department, claimed in Israel Defense that “the most dangerous side effect of Israel’s losing on the international public opinion front is the increasing willingness of international and national judicial organs to consider launching legal proceedings relating to Israeli violations of the laws of armed conflict.”

The MRN has welcomed the decision of South Africa to enforce the warrants of arrest as they believe Israel must be held accountable for its violations of international law and war crimes.