War Crimes Case Against Benny Gantz Dismissed by Dutch Court for Lack of Jurisdiction

Civil suit seeks compensation for the deaths of six members of Gazan-born Dutch citizen's family while Gantz was army chief

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Benny Gantz in the Jordan Valley, West Bank, January 21, 2020.
Benny Gantz in the Jordan Valley, West Bank, January 21, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

A Dutch district court on Wednesday ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to hear a case against former Israeli Armed Forces chief Benny Gantz brought by a Dutch-Palestinian who lost six relatives during an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

The claim was filed under universal jurisdiction rules by the claimant Ismail Ziada. Judicial authorities in countries that recognize universal jurisdiction for serious offences such as war crimes and torture can investigate and prosecute those crimes no matter where they were committed.

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"A Dutch judge is not competent to rule on the case of the claimant," presiding Judge Larisa Alwin said, explaining that universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility but not in a civil case.

In civil cases in national courts, Gantz enjoys immunity from prosecution due to his government function at the times of the alleged crimes, Alwin said.

The ruins of the family home after an airstrike in 2014. Credit: Courtesy of the Ziada family

The civil suit was filed by a Gaza-born Dutch citizen, Ismail Ziada, seeking compensation for the deaths of six members of Ziada's family and a seventh person during Israel's 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza. 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 were killed and five civilians.

Gantz was the chief of staff of the Israeli army at the time. 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. 

The Israeli army 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 it met standards of proportionality and necessity. Ziada's lawyer said in response that only one of those killed was a Hamas member, and was not active in the group.

Benny Gantzs' lawyer claimed that the Israeli court system is accessible to Palestinians, and that in any event, 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.

Ziada's suit alleges that Israeli courts do not afford him a genuine opportunity for a fair hearing in the deaths, which he says constitute war crimes. The lawsuit had relied on the concept of universal jurisdiction in Dutch law that is accorded to those who have no opportunity to have their claims adjudicated elsewhere.

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