South Africa threatens citizens fighting in IDF with arrest if they return home

Military says it is working on solutions to risks faced by soldiers when traveling overseas, amid broader concerns for Israelis visiting countries hostile to the offensive in Gaza

File: South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor delivers her closing remarks following a meeting with Denmark's Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen (not seen) in Pretoria on March 5, 2024. (Phill Magakoe / AFP)
File: South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor delivers her closing remarks following a meeting with Denmark's Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen (not seen) in Pretoria on March 5, 2024. (Phill Magakoe / AFP)

South Africa’s Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor has vowed that citizens who fight in the Israel Defense Forces will be arrested upon returning to the country.

“I have already issued a statement alerting those who are South African and who are fighting alongside or in the Israeli Defense Forces. We are ready. When you come home, we’re going to arrest you,” Pandor said on Sunday, at a conference on solidarity with Palestinians in Pretoria.

The comments followed an initial warning in December by South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, which said alleged violations of international law by soldiers in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war made them “liable for prosecution in South Africa.”

South Africans need prior government approval to fight legally in Israel, the ministry said. Naturalized citizens are at further risk of being stripped of their South African nationality for engaging in a war that the country “does not support or agree with,” the foreign ministry added.

Amid fears countries hostile to the ongoing war will seek to arrest Israeli visitors suspected of fighting in Gaza, the military said in a statement carried by Haaretz Wednesday: “The IDF is working to provide a response to possible security and legal risks when soldiers travel abroad. The IDF is monitoring the issue on an ongoing basis, in coordination and cooperation with the relevant government ministries.”

South Africa has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party often linking it to its own struggle against apartheid.

It has strongly condemned Israel’s response to the Hamas onslaught of October 7, which started the war, bringing allegations of genocide against the Jewish state at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and recalling all its diplomats from the country.

“If you think that we act in support of Palestine because of elections this year, you don’t know South African history. You don’t know the history of liberation and struggle. We didn’t meet the Palestinian people on October 8. We’ve been together in struggle for many many decades,” Pandor said Sunday.

“The people of Palestine trained the freedom fighters of the liberation movement. This is a relationship, of freedom fighters, of activists, of nations that share a history. A history of struggle for justice and freedom,” she added.

South Africa filed its genocide case in December, alleging that Israel was in breach of its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention in its war with the terror group Hamas in Gaza. At ICJ hearings in January, lawyers for Israel argued that its war in Gaza was a legitimate defense of its people and that it was Hamas who was guilty of genocide.

The ICJ handed down an initial ruling in late January that said there was “plausibility” to South Africa’s claims that Palestinians require protection from genocide but stopped short of ordering an immediate, unilateral ceasefire. A final ruling could take a decade.

Israel launched its offensive on Hamas after the terror group’s onslaught against in Israel on October 7, in which it slaughtered around 1,200 people, mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and took around another 253 hostage. In the ensuing war, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 31,000 people have been killed. The Hamas figures cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between combatants and civilians, those killed by Israel and those by failed Palestinian rocket launches. Israel says it has killed over 13,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza.

Israel says it is making efforts to avoid harm to civilians while fighting Hamas in difficult conditions — since the terror group is waging war from within the civilian population, often using it as cover.

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