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 A 21-year-old Finnish-Israeli soldier, Lior Raviv, died in Gaza on March 23. He became the 252nd Israeli soldier killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sgt. First Class Raviv was reportedly killed during Israel’s operation targeting Hamas militants in Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the news, and his death notice was published in the newspaper Kuhmolainen and Times of Israel.

Raviv, hailing from Kuhmo, was buried on the same day in the military section of the Rishon LeZion cemetery near Tel Aviv, in accordance with Jewish tradition.

This is the first reported death of a Finnish-Israeli dual citizen, who participated in Israeli army against the ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza. Raviv’s demise highlights the challenges faced by dual citizens like himself, torn between allegiance to their homeland and a sense of duty to a country embroiled in conflict.

No statistics of dual citizens in combat

It has proven extremely difficult for the media to find information on dual citizens who as reservists have to serve and fight in two armies, such as Finnish citizens fighting for IDF in Gaza at the moment. Government agencies, either lack sufficient data on dual citizens engaging in combat in other countries or refuse to give such information out.  Helsinki Times reached out to multiple agencies, including the Finnish Defence Forces, Interior Ministry, and Foreign Ministry.

The Finnish Defence Ministry stated that they do not maintain statistics on reservists with dual citizenship.

 “Unfortunately, Finnish Defence Forces do not compile statistics on dual citizenship. For the Defence Forces, it is Finnish citizenship that matters to us,” said a spokesperson of Finnish Defence Force.

“We do not endorse or send Finnish citizens to fight wars in different countries and unfortunately, many citizens do not inform us when they engage in such activities,” the spokesperson added.

The Finnish embassy in Tel Aviv maintained the same stance on Finnish fighters in Israel. “We do not track exact numbers of the dual citizens that are serving currently either as regular soldiers or as reservists,” the embassy told Helsinki Times.

The embassy added that due to the variety of units in the service, many, when called, are in duty in offices or in medical corps also. “If there is anyone in duty, they would be serving under the Israeli authority,” Finnish embassy in Israel said.

However, the Israeli Defence Forces declined to release the numbers of Finnish soldiers in combat in Gaza, citing security concerns.  

According to data provided by statistics.fi, as of 2022, there are at least 177 Finnish men and 122 Finnish women with Israeli dual citizenship, aged between 15 and 44. Among the males, 34 fall within the 15-24 age range, while 143 are aged between 25 and 44. Similarly, among females, 33 are aged 15-24, while 89 are aged 25-44, holding Finnish-Israeli dual citizenship.

In Israel, military service becomes mandatory at the age of 18, lasting 32 months for men and 24 months for women. While in several countries, like Finland, women have the option to volunteer for military service, the Israeli Defence Forces uniquely conscripts the entire female population. Following their compulsory service, individuals may be called upon to serve in reserve units in Israel in case of a national emergency.

In the meantime, The Israel Defence Forces plans to extend conscript and reservist service durations to enhance readiness amid prolonged conflict in Gaza. Female soldiers in combat roles will serve 36 months, while the consecutive days of reservist service will increase from 25 to 40.

The IDF also enlists over 7,000 “lone soldiers”, with nearly half being recent immigrants from global Jewish communities. Through the ‘Mahal’ program, individuals under 24 for men and 21 for women, with at least one Jewish grandparent, can join the IDF for 18 to 24 months without requiring to have Israeli citizenship.

Debate around foreign fighters

Israel’s reported use of foreign mercenaries in its attacks on Gaza has stirred significant debate and controversy. Helsinki Times had earlier reported that high-ranking UN experts warn of a potential “genocide in progress” in Gaza, urging the international community to take all necessary measures to prevent further atrocities. Israel is under investigation by the International Court of Justice for alleged genocide and there are numerous allegations of war crimes such as deliberate targeting of civilians, aid workers and journalists.

When questioned about the potential persecution of soldiers for war crimes outside the country, Finland’s Justice Ministery clarified that Finnish law applies to crimes committed abroad by Finnish citizens.

“As a rule, this presupposes that the offence must also be punishable at the place where the offence was committed (double criminality requirement), which is often the case for the offences that may be involved. In addition, many offences related to combat operations are international crimes that can be tried in Finland regardless of the law of the place where they were committed,” Janne Kanerva, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Legislative Affairs, Ministry of Justice said.

If Finnish authorities become aware of a suspected crime committed abroad by a Finnish citizen, they will assess whether the conditions for initiating criminal proceedings are met.

“In these situations, as a rule, a decision by the prosecutor is required to start a pre-trial investigation. In the case of offences suspected of having been committed outside Finland, the possibility that the criminal case may be processed outside Finland (for example, in the court of the place where the crime was committed) must always be taken into account,” Kanerva added.

In cases where soldiers become victims of war crimes during conflicts, the Ministry of Justice ensures assistance and intervention through various channels. “They might need medical assistance or other social welfare and healthcare services, such as emergency social services, hospital treatment and physical and mental rehabilitation. The victim may use these services in Finland under the same conditions as all the other clients. Many organisations in Finland also provide support, advice, and guidance for crime victims,” Kanerva said.

International mercenaries

The involvement of mercenaries from various countries, such as Spain and France, has come to light through recent revelations, including a Spanish mercenary providing compelling evidence of their presence in the Israeli army, as reported by Spanish outlet El Mundo. This evidence includes details of a weekly payment of 3,900 euros to mercenaries, suggesting the existence of a well-funded operation.

Moreover, reports by French media indicate that a considerable number of French-Israeli dual citizens, approximately 4,185, have enlisted in the Israeli army specifically for the Gaza conflict. These revelations have sparked discussions not only within France but also internationally, drawing attention to the potential legal implications of such involvement.

In December 2023, the Australian Centre for International Justice sent letters to key Australian authorities, including the Minister for Home Affairs, the Attorney-General, and the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, regarding Australian citizens involved in hostilities in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The exact count of American citizens engaged in combat in Gaza remains uncertain, with estimates suggesting a figure in the hundreds. Since the onset of the Israeli offensive on October 7th, approximately 10,000 individuals residing in the US have received draft notices from the Israeli army, compelling them to report for duty. Among these individuals, many hold dual Israeli citizenship, posing a legal quandary regarding accountability for potential war crimes.

Furthermore, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, has remarked that roughly 18,000 Italian nationals were living and working in Israel when the conflict erupted, with about 1,000 of them serving in the IDF. Similarly, the UK Foreign Office has confirmed that at least 80 British nationals were serving in Israel’s military one month before October 7th, as per a report by Declassified UK.

 A Palestinian man walks on building rubble in a devastated area around Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital on April 3, 2024, amid the ongoing destruction of Gaza by Israeli forces. (Photo by AFP)

 

Mass slaughter of civilians

In a devastating update by Aljazeera that underscores the severity of the ongoing conflict, the situation in Gaza remains dire, with Israel intensifying its military operations across the region, including strikes near hospitals and in the southern parts of the enclave. As of April 4, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reports a staggering toll: at least 33,037 people have been killed, including more than 13,000 children and 8,400 women, with injuries surpassing 75,668 individuals. Additionally, over 8,000 people are missing.

While some have questioned the reliability of the statistics from Gaza Health Ministry, the high toll of civilian casualties has been confirmed by US authorities. Speaking during a congressional hearing on Thursday 29th of February, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked by Congressman Ro Khanna how many Palestinian women and children had been killed by Israel, replying: “It is over 25,000.”

The conflict's impact has not spared the occupied West Bank, where at least 457 people have been killed, including 117 children. The destruction in Gaza is vast, with significant damage to residential buildings, educational facilities, healthcare infrastructure, and critical water sources. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs highlights the harrowing reality: every hour, 15 lives are lost, 6 of whom are children. Israel has also killed more than 100 journalists in Gaza, most of them Palestinians.

This combination of undated pictures received from World Central Kitchen (WCK) and created on April 3, 2024 shows undated portraits of relief and security team members of the US-based aid group (Top L To R) Australian Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, Polish Damian Sobol, British James Kirby, Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, (bottom L to R) British James (Jim) Henderson, British John Chapman, and US-Canadian Jacob Flickinger, at undisclosed locations. Israeli bombardment killed seven staff of the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen on April 1 in an attack that the UN chief labelled "unconscionable" and "an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted". (Photo by WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN / AFP)

 

Seven international aid workers belonging to charity World Central Kitchen, distributing food to the famine ridden Gazan civilians were killed last Monday by what seems to be a deliberate precision targeting of their well-marked vehicles moving in a convoy kilometres apart.

 

Sonali Telang - HT

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