Benny Gantz is seen as the main contender to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel’s upcoming elections.
But the former Israeli army chief is currently being sued in the Netherlands for bombing the home of the Ziada family during Israel’s 2014 onslaught in Gaza.
An Israeli airstrike destroyed the house in the al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza on 20 July 2014, killing six members of the Ziada family and a seventh person who was visiting at the time.
Palestinian-Dutch citizen Ismail Ziada lost his 70-year-old mother Muftia Ziada, three brothers, a sister-in-law and a 12-year-old nephew.
Ziada holds Gantz and Amir Eshel, then air force chief, responsible for the decision to drop the bomb.
Last year, Ziada’s lawyers summoned Gantz and Eshel to appear on 27 June in a Dutch court to answer the charges. The lawsuit demands more than $600,000 in damages plus court costs from the Israeli generals.
Shortly before that date, the commanders appointed a lawyer to represent them, thus avoiding a default judgment in Ziada’s favor.
Ziada’s lawyers, human rights and war crimes experts Liesbeth Zegveld and Lisa-Marie Komp, argue that the attack on the Ziada home was part of Israel’s “policy to bomb civilian residential buildings” in “breach of international humanitarian law.”
According to the complaint, Gantz and Eshel were among the top leaders who “designed the policy of bombing residential buildings” and are “fully responsible for the decision to bomb the Ziada family residence.”
In November, the generals’ lawyers submitted a response which ignored Ziada’s key argument that the bombing of the family home was illegal and a war crime under international law.
Instead, the generals claim a right to immunity. They also dispute the jurisdiction of the Dutch court based on the claim that Ziada could seek justice in Israel.
But as Zegveld told The Electronic Intifada, there is an “utter lack of any remedy for Palestinians. Israeli courts are factually closed to Palestinians.”
Human rights groups have previously documented Israel’s systematic refusal to seriously investigate allegations of war crimes and other serious breaches of international law during its assaults on Gaza.
This reality is underscored in a recent ruling in the case of Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish against the Israeli state for killing his three daughters during Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza that began in December 2008.
Last month, a court in Beersheba ruled that Israel bore no responsibility for the 16 January 2009 shelling of Abuelaish’s home that killed his daughters Bisan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14, along with their cousin Noor.
A video of Abuelaish speaking on the phone to an Israeli television station after Israeli tank shells killed the young women testifies to the pain inflicted on him and his family.
During its 51-day assault on Gaza in 2014 – the context for Ismail Ziada’s lawsuit in the Netherlands – Israel carried out thousands of airstrikes, including targeted attacks on residential and other civilian buildings, an independent investigation commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council found.
In total, 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians, among them 551 children, according to the investigation. More than 11,000 Palestinians were injured, the majority women and children.
The inquiry found that Israel’s destruction and killing often amounted to war crimes and “may have constituted military tactics reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.”
The law in the Netherlands allows the country’s courts to exercise universal jurisidiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated elsewhere when a Dutch national cannot obtain justice in the country where the crimes were committed.
By suing the Israeli generals, Zegveld says, Ziada is asking the Dutch court to “fill the legal vacuum and to do justice.”
The first hearing is expected in March. If the court decides to allow the case to go forward, the Israeli generals will undoubtedly appeal.
But the Ziadas and their lawyers are determined to hold the two commanders accountable for bombing the family home. They are prepared for a long and costly legal battle which may take years.
In order to help sustain the fight, the Amsterdam-based Nuhanovic Foundation and other supporters of Ziada have started a crowdfunding campaign for legal costs.
It has already raised $13,000 towards a goal of almost $60,000.
Ziada’s lawyer Zegveld previously sued Dutch company Four Winds K9 for the serious injuries inflicted on a Palestinian youth by an attack dog the firm provided to the Israeli military.
Four Winds K9 preferred to settle the case with the victim to avoid a court ruling.
Meanwhile, Ziada caught the attention of Israel’s justice minister Ayelet Shaked.
It is “absurd” that Ziada went to a Dutch court to seek justice, she told Dutch newspaper NRC in December, claiming Israel has one of the best judicial systems in the world.
The Nuhanovic Foundation, of which Zegveld is a co-founder, aims to help victims of war crimes achieve a measure of justice.
The organization is supporting the Ziada case because it is important that civilian victims of war are able to “obtain redress for the harm they suffered,” director Frederiek de Vlaming told The Electronic Intifada.
The foundation wants the Israeli government to acknowledge responsibility for its crimes and to provide “some form of compensation to victims” through litigation, de Vlaming added. “The right to redress is meaningless if victims do not have access to justice and if there is no institution or court to hear their claims.”
There is no doubt that Gantz and Eshel can count on the support of the Israeli government, which will be prepared to invest large sums in their defense.
Ismail Ziada’s wife Angélique Eijpe told The Electronic Intifada that the support and solidarity they have been receiving “strengthened our resolve to continue to pursue this fight for justice.”
“We consider our fight to be part of a broader struggle to hold those responsible for war crimes in Gaza accountable,” Eijpe added.
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