Palestinian appeals Dutch war crimes immunity for Benny Gantz

Three men in military uniforms converse

General Benny Gantz, right, briefs commanders on 20 July 2014, the same day Israeli forces bombed the family home of Ismail Ziada in the Gaza Strip. Ziada is pursuing a Dutch war crimes lawsuit against Gantz, who is about to assume office as Israel’s deputy prime minister. (via Flickr)

Benny Gantz will soon be sworn in as Israel’s deputy prime minister in a coalition deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If the deal proceeds as planned, Gantz will take over as prime minister in 18 months.

In the meantime, Gantz will continue to face efforts to hold him accountable for crimes committed during Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza, when he was the Israeli army chief of staff.

On Wednesday, Ismail Ziada filed an appeal against a ruling by a Dutch court granting Gantz and Israel’s former air force chief Amir Eshel immunity against a war crimes lawsuit.

Ziada, a Palestinian-Dutch citizen, has been suing Gantz and Eshel for a lethal bombing attack on his family’s home in Gaza.

Ismail Ziada sued two Israeli generals for the deaths of six relatives during Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza. (via Facebook)

The 20 July 2014 attack reduced the three-floor building in al-Bureij refugee camp to rubble.

It killed Ziada’s 70-year-old mother Muftia, his brothers Jamil, Yousif and Omar, sister-in-law Bayan, and 12-year-old nephew Shaban, as well as a seventh person visiting the family.

Ziada sued the Israeli generals for more than $600,000 in damages plus costs.

Israel’s assault on Gaza that summer killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children. An independent inquiry commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council found extensive evidence of Israeli war crimes.

But in January, the district court in The Hague threw out Ziada’s case, granting Gantz and Eshel immunity on the grounds that they committed their alleged crimes while acting in an official capacity.

This ruling flew in the face of even the Dutch government’s position that immunity does not extend to international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

More significantly, the Dutch court repudiated the Nuremberg Principles, established with the trials of Nazi leaders after World War II. Those principles state that individuals cannot evade responsibility because they were acting as a head of state or government official, or because they were following orders from a superior.

The appeal will contend that “the court erred in its decision to offer functional immunity to the defendants, as such immunity is not enjoyed for war crimes,” a press release from the Palestine Justice Campaign, which supports Ziada’s legal effort, states.

Ziada is represented by prominent human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who recently won a case forcing the Dutch government to pay compensation to victims and survivors of its colonial crimes in Indonesia in the 1940s.

Israel’s government has mounted an all-out legal effort, sparing no expense to protect its former generals from accountability before a Dutch court.

Ziada’s campaign for justice, by contrast, is a grassroots effort supported by hundreds of individuals donating money to assist with legal expenses by crowdfunding.

Roger Waters has also previously backed the lawsuit. The rock legend tweeted out news of Ziada’s appeal:

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A Dutch court has now embraced the doctrine that commission of war crimes is immunised when persons carrying out heinous acts operate withing a governmental chain of command. For the sake of consistency- without which the law becomes an arbitrary instrument of power rather than of justice-perhaps the time has come to reverse convictions of German officials and their collaborators for crimes carried out on Dutch soil in the Second World War. I would even suggest that the Netherlands consider payment of formal reparations to the families and descendants of SS, Gestapo, and German army officials for having besmirched the good name of those individuals and the cause they served.

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