Dutch-Palestinian Begins Civil Proceedings Against ex-IDF Chief of Staff Over Gaza Family's Deaths

Ismail Ziadah lost six relatives when Israeli jets bombed family home, claiming that it was serving as an active command and control center for Hamas

Palestinians carrying their belongings after salvaging them from their destroyed houses in the heavily bombed town of Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, August 1, 2014.
Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Civil proceedings have begun in the Netherlands against Israel’s former chief of staff and the commander of Israel’s Air Force, over the deaths of six family members in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

A preliminary notice of liability was sent Tuesday to the commander of the air force, Amir Eshel, and the chief of staff at the time, Benny Gantz. The notice , notified the officers of the intention of Ismail Ziada, a Dutch citizen, sue over the deaths of his mother Muftiah, 70, three of his siblings – Jamil, Yousef and Omar, Jamil’s wife Bayan and their 12 year old son Shaban, when a bomb struck their house in the al-Bureij refugee camp on July 20, 2014.

The notice was sent by email to the Defense Ministry and by courier to the Israeli embassy in the Hague. The proceedings were also reported in an investigative television program on public Dutch broadcasting, which aired a segment on the Ziadah family.

In the notice, Liesbeth Zegveld, an attorney with the human rights lawyers firm Prakken d’Oliveira in Amsterdam, is asking Gantz and Eshel to inform within six weeks if they accept liability in this case and are prepared to compensate her client for the damage done to him. Bombing the house and deaths of the family contravened international law and constitutes a war crime, Zegveld wrote in the notice.

Financial compensation is not the goal here, Zegveld told Haaretz, but the law requires a material expression of damage for a law suit to be filed. Their working assumption, she said, is that neither officer will acknowledge their responsibility. The next stage will be to summon them to appear before a civilian court in the Netherlands. The writ of summons will be accompanied by a description of the case, more detailed than that of the notice of reliability. It will also address and challenge the announcement of the Military Advocate General (MAG) about closing the case of the bomb raid in which the Ziada family was killed.

A press release dated August 2016, on the Military Advocate General Corps website, which however was never delivered directly to the Ziadahs, claims that the house served as an active command and control center for Hamas, and that the attack was designed to hit it and the militants manning it – two being members of the Ziadah family as well as a senior Hamas officer visiting the house, Muhammed Maqadma, who also died in the attack.

The MAG website uses similar wording ("command and control center") for other cases where entire Palestinian families were killed in bombings.

Technically, after the court registers the writ of summons, it will schedule a date to hear the parties before a Dutch civil judge, whose job will be to decide whether the Dutch court has jurisdiction. Zegveld’s job is to persuade the judge that Israel does not hold fair investigations into war crime suspicions, and Palestinians are not given fair opportunity to sue Israelis responsible for such acts. It will be a protracted process, but the very step is important regardless of the unpredictable outcome, she told Haaretz.

The killing of the Ziadah family received special attention when Henk Zanoli, a relative of Ismail Ziada’s wife, returned his medal from Yad Vashem honoring him as a “Righteous Among the Nations” to the Israeli embassy in The Hague in protest of the family’s deaths. Zanoli, who with his mother had hidden a Jewish boy during World War II, died in December 2015 at the age of 92.