Israel urges Dutch court to dismiss case against Gantz over 2014 Gaza strike

Justice Ministry says court lacks jurisdiction to rule on incident that killed plaintiff’s relatives, adding that it was in accordance with international law

In this photo from July 31, 2014, then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, Pool, File)
In this photo from July 31, 2014, then-IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty, Pool, File)

The Justice Ministry on Monday said the government has asked a Dutch court to dismiss war crimes allegations against Israel Resilience party leader Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the April elections.

A Dutch-Palestinian man originally from the Gaza Strip last year sued Gantz and former Air Force chief Amir Eshel for their roles in a 2014 airstrike on his family’s home that killed six relatives. The dead included a 72-year-old woman and a 12-year-old child.

The airstrike on the Zeyada family home took place during Operation Protective Edge against terror groups in Gaza.

The ministry said Monday that an internal Israeli military investigation determined the airstrike had killed four terrorists, including three family members, hiding in the house. It said the attack was permissible under international law, and argued the Dutch court does not have jurisdiction. Terror group Hamas — which rules Gaza and openly seeks Israel’s destruction — has admitted that two of its members were in the building.

“Israel has several mechanisms in place and a robust legal system available to address allegations such as those raised by the plaintiff,” the ministry said.

Smoke billows following an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern of Gaza Strip, on August 19, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“Litigating the lawsuit before a Dutch court would circumvent fundamental and long-recognized principles of state immunity. Accordingly, a motion to summarily dismiss the case has been filed in the Netherlands on behalf of the two former Israeli officials,” it added.

Hassan Zeyada, a Gaza psychologist, said his family had turned to the Dutch court because it does not believe the Israeli military is capable of investigating itself. His brother Ismail, who lives in the Hague, filed the lawsuit.

“The objective is accountability,” Zeyada said. “It’s possible that our case will be a model for all bereaved families to achieve justice and accountability.”

On the campaign trail, Gantz has touted his leadership of the 2014 war as a reason to vote for him. In a campaign ad, he boasted of killing “1,364 terrorists” in the fighting.

“If Gantz claims he enjoyed immunity because he was acting on behalf of the state, why he is bragging about destroying Gaza for his personal election campaign?” Zeyada said.

Benny Gantz arrives to deliver his first electoral speech in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A UN report has claimed that over 1,400 Palestinian civilians were killed in the fighting and said war crimes may have been committed by both sides. Israel has claimed the actual civilian toll is half of that and blamed Hamas for the civilian casualties, saying the group hid fighters and launched attacks from residential neighborhoods.

Gantz, who left the military in 2015, has burst onto the Israeli political scene and quickly emerged as the top challenger to Netanyahu in the April vote.

Liesbeth Zegveld, the Dutch lawyer handling the case, said it was filed last year and is still in the procedural phase as the court decides whether it has jurisdiction.

The family “is arguing that they do not have access to an Israeli court, that is highly discriminatory against them, that there are so many obstacles that they never get a ruling,” she said. “So we are arguing that they should be given permission to plead their case before a Dutch court.”

Zegveld said there is no precedent for such a case, but she hopes the Dutch court will agree to take it.

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