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South African activists file criminal complaint against citizen accused of fighting for Israel

It is illegal for a South African citizen to fight for a foreign army without prior permission from the South African government
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in South Africa alleges that the man on the right, Benjamin Rattle, a South African citizen, serves illegally in the Israeli army (MEE/Instagram)

A South African pro-Palestinian organisation has filed a criminal complaint against a South African citizen who has allegedly been serving illegally with the Israeli military since at least October 2023.

The complaint filed on Thursday by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in South Africa (PSC) alleges that Benjamin Rattle, a South African citizen from the Western Cape, has been part of the Israeli military's Golani Brigade, which has played an essential role in Israel's ongoing war on Gaza.

According to the complaint, seen by Middle East Eye, the PSC said it built its case following the emergence of an online petition that called on the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor to push for the prosecution of two people, including Rattle, who were identified as fighting for the Israeli military.

After trawling through his social media, the PSC found several bits of information and images which suggested that Rattle was in the army and the group filed a criminal complaint.

"We have provided prima facie evidence that this person is in fact serving in the IOF, but we believe it is the role of law enforcement to investigate their conduct and conclude that there has been a contravention of the law which warrants prosecution," Usuf Chikte, with the PSC, told MEE. 

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"We are confident that our complaint contains sufficient information and we have laid a convincing foundation as a basis for a prosecution," Chikte added.

It is illegal for a South African citizen to fight for a foreign army without prior permission from the South African government.

In March, Minister Pandor said that citizens fighting for the Israeli military stand to be prosecuted.

This came after a prior warning in December from the government that announced that South Africans could lose their citizenship for partaking in foreign wars they didn't agree with. 

In December last year, South Africa filed a case at the International Court of Justice alleging that Israel's actions in Gaza were "genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group".

Then in January, the ICJ ruled that it was "plausible" that Israel was committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Evidence from Instagram

In its complaint to the police, the PSC said it had accumulated and included 13 photos and images scraped from two of Rattle's alleged Instagram accounts that "suggest Rattle is serving in the IDF as either a volunteer or a member of the IDF and he may be on active duty in the Gaza Strip in occupied Palestine and that he is proud of his role in the IDF."

The data includes images and video over the past year, including those that appear to suggest that he may still be on active duty in Gaza, the group said.

In the images provided, Rattle is seen holding semi-automatic weapons with either tanks or devastated buildings in the background.

In one purported image of Rattle, a caption reads: "From the River to the Sea, we shall set Israel free".

The PSC submitted 13 images from what they claim to be Benjamin Rattle's instagram accounts (MEE/Instagram)
The PSC submitted 13 images from what they claim to be Benjamin Rattle's Instagram accounts (MEE/Instagram) 

Middle East Eye was unable to reach Benjamin Rattle, whose social media accounts have been deleted since the case was filed. MEE did reach out to Rattle's parents in South Africa for comment but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.

Prior to deleting his social media accounts, Rattle told the South African publication Groundup that he was currently stationed on the border with Lebanon.

He did not deny being part of the Israeli army.

"Yes, I am proud to be here fighting for Jews to be able to live peacefully in their ancient homeland side by side with Arabs, who don’t wish to exterminate us."

Rattle then said that he thinks the South African government should be "ashamed" for its actions - likely referring to South Africa's stance on the conflict and its case at the ICJ - claiming the actions put the country's Jewish community in danger and prevents "Jews trying to help the cause" from going back home.

“I have been in Gaza and I can tell you something, the poverty in South Africa is far worse than the living conditions in Gaza have ever been. So if I were the government of South Africa, I would focus on trying to fix the issues in my own country, of which there are countless, before getting involved in other countries’ problems.”

Longstanding battle to prosecute

According to activists and lawyers in South Africa, it is unclear how many South African citizens are currently fighting or have fought for the Israeli army over the years.

Anecdotal evidence gleaned from social media suggests that there may have been upwards of 70 South Africans who have fought for Israel.

The PSC said that their complaint will now be investigated by the police before it will be passed to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). It is unclear if the NPA - even if it finds it plausible that Rattle has been serving illegally in the Israeli army - would go on to prosecute him.

"The PSC's battle to prosecute those who serve in the IOF is a longstanding one," Chikte said, referring to Israel's army as the Israel Occupation Force.

"We have, together with our partners, approached the NPA on two separate occasions to prosecute individuals who have similar factual circumstances to the person implicated in our complaint.

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"In addition, we have engaged with the Department of Justice and Correctional Services (DOJCS) twice in the last year about their slow progress in investigating charges we had made against individuals serving in the IOF," Chikte added.

However, the PSC believes there is now more political will in South Africa to pursue such a case, especially given the context of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, as well as South Africa's leading role in taking Israel to the International Criminal Court on the charge of genocide.

In its complaint, the PSC also accused Rattle of contravening the Rome Statute, arguing that he "appears to have engaged in the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity, directly or indirectly by common purpose or by association or under orders given by the IDF."

More than 32,900 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since 7 October when the war broke out, in a campaign in Gaza of aerial bombardments, targeted assassinations, and the systematic denial of aid, water and electricity.

"Prosecution is one of the most powerful ways South Africa can prevent the loss of life in Palestine, prevent the spread of Zionism locally and signal to the international community that Israel’s impunity will not be tolerated - as it is this impunity that has allowed Israel to continue its occupation over seven decades," Chikte said.

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