Dutch court hears preliminary arguments against Benny Gantz for 2014 Gaza strike

Dutch-Palestinian seeking 600,000 euros in damages for six relatives killed in bombing when Blue and White leader was army chief; defense attorney says court can’t try case

Blue and White Party chairman MK Benny Gantz speaks at an event in Kfar Ahim, a day before the elections, on September 16, 2019. (Flash90)
Blue and White Party chairman MK Benny Gantz speaks at an event in Kfar Ahim, a day before the elections, on September 16, 2019. (Flash90)

A Dutch court heard preliminary arguments Tuesday in a case about a deadly 2014 Israeli airstrike, in which Israeli prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz is one of two named defendants.

Dutch-Palestinian Ismail Ziada is seeking 600,000 euros ($660,000) in damages over the airstrike deaths, Reuters reported.

This preliminary hearing, to determine whether or not it should try the case, started as Israelis went to the polls to elect a new government — with Gantz a leading candidate for the prime minister’s post.

Gantz, 60, was the chief of general staff of the Israel Defense Force at the time of the Gaza bombing as part of Operation Protective Edge, in which Ismail Ziada said six of his relatives were killed.

The second defendant is former Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel, 60.

At the hearing Ziada urged the court to go ahead with a trial for war crimes.

Amir Eshel (left) with Benny Gantz (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Amir Eshel (left) with Benny Gantz (photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“I am seeking justice,” Ziada told judges at The Hague’s District Court. He would not get a fair hearing before an Israeli court, he argued, because it “discriminated against Palestinians seeking accountability for war crimes.”

Ziada’s mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law, a young nephew and a friend were killed in the strike on Bureij refugee camp in Gaza on July 20, 2014.

Israel said it launched Operation Protective Edge at the time to stop rocket fire against its citizens and destroy tunnels used for smuggling weapons and militants.

“As a Palestinian, my client has no access to a partial and independent judge” before an Israeli court, Ziada’s lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told the judges.

“In other words, it’s impossible for him to take his claim anywhere else,” she said.

During an emotional statement, Ziada showed pictures of his dead relatives, telling the judges “much depends on the outcome of this judicial process,” which he called a “David versus Goliath” legal battle.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz speaks with Israeli soldiers near the border with the Gaza Strip, on July 26, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Zegveld argued that the case could be heard under Dutch law, which says that it has universal jurisdiction in civil cases for citizens who are unable to get justice for war crimes elsewhere.

Ziada’s arguments, however, were dismissed by lawyers representing Gantz and Eshel — who did not themselves attend the hearing.

“It is not up to the Dutch court to judge military actions of Israel, just as it is not up to an Israeli court to judge Dutch military actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and the former Yugoslavia,” Thom Dieben told the judges.

“There is no good reason why the plaintiff cannot and has not filed his claim before the Israeli courts,” another lawyer, Cathalijne van der Plas, added.

“It is a case that has no connection with the Netherlands and derives from a situation… thousands of kilometers away, and relates to sovereign military intervention by the state of Israel in the context of an authorized military operation.

“The only possible conclusion here is that your court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case,” she said.

Judges are expected to hand down a ruling within the next two months.

The 50-day war is said to have killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, many of them civilians, according to Palestinian sources in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip; and 73 Israelis, including 66 soldiers.

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