Dutch court rejects suit claiming Gantz liable for civilian deaths in Gaza airstrike

Dutch-Palestinian Ismail Ziada seeking damages for 6 relatives killed in 2014; court rules it is not competent to judge case, senior IDF officers were carrying out official policy

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, September 29, 2014. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz on September 29, 2014. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A Dutch appeals court ruled on Tuesday that Defense Minister Benny Gantz cannot be held liable in a case brought by a man who lost six relatives in a 2014 airstrike in Gaza.

Ismail Ziada, a Dutch-Palestinian man, lost his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law, a young nephew and a friend in the strike during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, a violent clash with the Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip. He is seeking 600,000 euros ($660,000) in damages over the airstrike deaths.

Ziada had appealed against a ruling by The Hague district court in January 2020 that it had no jurisdiction under international law in the case, which named Gantz and former Israeli Air Force chief Amir Eshel.

“Dutch courts are not competent here to judge the claim. The (lower) court rightly decided that,” The Hague appeals court said.

“High-ranking military personnel have carried out official policy of the State of Israel, which renders a judgment on their actions moribund.”

The court added that it was “not blind to the plaintiff’s suffering.”

Defense Benny Gantz leads a faction meeting of his Blue and White party at the Knesset, on December 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Gantz, who has been defense minister since last year, was the chief of general staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at the time of the airstrike on the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza on July 20, 2014.

The lower district court had also said that Ziada was free to sue the men in Israel. At hearings in 2019, Ziada rejected the idea that he had access to justice in Israel as “farcical as well as vicious.”

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

Dutch-Palestinian Ismail Ziada and his lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, after a Dutch appeals court in The Hague upheld a lower court’s decision to throw out a civil case against Israel’s defense minister and another former senior military officer over their roles in a deadly 2014 airstrike in Gaza which killed six members of the Ziada family, Dec.ember7, 2021. (Peter Dejong/AP)

Zegveld had 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 in 2019.

“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.

Presiding Judge Boele, center, prepares to read the verdict in an appeals court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 7, 2021. (Peter Dejong/AP)

Israel’s Justice Ministry told the court before the 2020 decision that an internal Israeli military investigation determined the airstrike had killed four Palestinian fighters hiding in the house. It said the attack was permissible under international law. Gaza’s Hamas rulers themselves have said that two of its fighters were in the building.

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

The operation left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, most of them civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

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