Dutch Appeals Court Rules Israel's Gantz Can't Be Tried for 2014 Gaza War Deaths

Ismail Ziada, a Gaza-born Dutch citizen, sought compensation for the deaths of six members of his family in Israeli strikes under universal jurisdiction rules

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Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, March.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, March.Credit: JACK GUEZ / AFP
Amira Hass

An appeals court in the Netherlands on Tuesday found that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz cannot be held responsible for the death of six Palestinians in a 2014 Israeli air strike on Gaza.

Ismail Ziada, a Gaza-born Dutch citizen, filed a civil suit in 2018, seeking compensation for the deaths of six members of his family and a seventh person during Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza.

Last year, a Dutch district court ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Ziada appealed the decision in September.

Ziada's suit relied on the concept of universal jurisdiction in Dutch law that is accorded to those who cannot have their claims adjudicated elsewhere. Ziada has alleged that Israeli courts do not afford him a genuine opportunity for a fair hearing in the deaths, which he says constitute war crimes.

Universal jurisdiction rules state that judicial authorities in countries that recognize them can investigate and prosecute serious offenses like war crimes and torture, no matter where the crimes were committed.

Reacting to the ruling, Gantz said he had been confident that he and Israel had been acting according to international law. "I am very happy that now other people have said the same," he told Reuters.

Smoke rises in Gaza after an Israeli airstrike, during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.Credit: Dusan Vranic/AP

Israel's Deputy Attorney General Roy Schondorf welcomed Tuesday's ruling. "It is a most important legal precedent that safeguards Israel's military commanders as a whole against similar attempts," he said on Twitter.

Ziada's lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, said her client had yet to decide whether to appeal, but suggested prospects of overturning the ruling appeared slim.

"Chances that the Dutch Supreme Court will hold the Israeli military to account are small," she told Reuters by text message.

Gantz was the chief of staff of the Israeli army at the time of the war, and his co-defendant, Amir Eshel, was the commander of the Israel Air Force. The suit claims that Gantz and Eshel are liable for the bombing of Ziada's family’s home in the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza and for the deaths Ziada's mother, three siblings, a sister-in-law and a nephew. A guest on the scene during the air raid was also killed.

Gantz's lawyer claimed that Gantz and Eshel cannot be sued unless the killings were carried out deliberately or with disregard for the consequences, because the deaths occurred in the context of their official duties.

The Israeli military said the building that the Air Force bombed served as a Hamas war room and that four members of the Hamas military wing and Islamic Jihad along with three civilians were killed in the attack. The Military Advocate General's office said the attack met standards of proportionality and necessity.

In response, Ziada's lawyer said that only one of those killed was a Hamas member, and was not active in the group.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed in the war, up to 1,500 of them civilians. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers  and five civilians were killed.

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