For more than 20 years, Four Winds K9, a company based near the city of Nijmegen, has annually provided the Israeli army with dozens of dogs trained to attack civilians.
The military dogs “are intentionally used by Israeli occupying forces to terrorize and bite Palestinian civilians, especially during protests and night house raids,” according to Shawan Jabarin, director of the human rights group Al-Haq.
This cruel tactic is reminiscent of how police in the United States and apartheid South Africa set attack dogs on Black citizens demanding their rights.
Lawmakers called on Lilian Ploumen, the Dutch trade minister at that time, to halt the export of the dogs.
Ploumen said she wanted to end the trade as well but saw no legal basis for a ban.
Instead, Ploumen engaged with Four Winds K9, urging the company to respect the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in conflict zones.
As a result, the company announced in June 2016 that it was no longer providing Israel with “biting dogs,” but only tracking hounds.
“We had no intention to violate human rights,” company co-owner Linda Boeijen told NRC.
“Give it to him, son of a bitch”
But that was not the end of the story.
Hamzeh Abu Hashem, a Palestinian victim of two Dutch attack dogs, filed a civil lawsuit against Four Winds K9 and its directors in the Netherlands last December.
On 23 December 2014, Abu Hashem, then 16, was attacked by two Israeli army dogs and suffered serious injuries.
There had been confrontations between Israeli occupation forces and residents of Abu Hashem’s village of Beit Ommar in an area where Palestinian youths frequently protested the seizure of the village’s land for the nearby settlement of Karmei Tzur.
According to a brief by Liesbeth Zegveld and Lisa Komp, attorneys with human rights law firm Prakken d’Oliveira who are representing Abu Hashem, Israeli soldiers arrived with two canines and unleashed them on the youths.
The dogs chased Abu Hashem and grabbed him in a yard between two houses. In an attack caught on video, the dogs bit him multiple times in his legs, arms and shoulder.
“These camera images show that Israeli soldiers initially stood by taunting Hamzeh while watching the dogs bite him and hearing him scream in agony,” the brief states.
The video is at the top of this article.
After Hamzeh was bitten multiple times, the dogs were finally pulled off him and he was arrested by the soldiers.
The video of the incident filmed by one of the soldiers and published by the human rights group B’Tselem shows the child crying out in pain while the soldiers can be heard shouting, “give it to him, son of a bitch” and “who’s afraid?”
According to B’Tselem, Michael Ben-Ari, a right-wing former Israeli lawmaker, had posted the video on Facebook.
A summons filed by Abu Hashem’s lawyers states that Ben-Ari wrote on Facebook, “The soldiers taught the little terrorist a lesson.”
The summons notes that after watching video of the attack, director Tonny Boeijen confirmed to NRC in 2015 that the dogs were supplied by his company.
Abu Hashem’s lawyers argue that Four Winds K9 acted wrongfully towards him.
They say the company knew or should have known that dog attacks in the occupied West Bank are part of a settled practice: The Israeli army regularly unleashed its dogs against Palestinian civilians.
They argue that the dog attacks breach Israel’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to protect civilians in occupied territory.
According to the lawyers’ brief, the dogs supplied by Four Winds K9 enable Israel “to enforce its authority over the Palestinian territories, and to continue its policy of unlawful Israeli settlements.”
The lawsuit demands damages for Abu Hashem and that the Dutch firm be prohibited from supplying dogs to the Israeli army.
Four Winds K9 claims that only the Israeli army is responsible for the damage caused by the use of the dogs.
But Abu Hashem’s lawyers respond that the company has an “independent duty of care” to ensure that it does not contribute to injuring Abu Hashem or to maintaining “a situation in breach of international humanitarian law and fundamental human rights.”
The company also argues that the export of the dogs did not violate any specific laws or regulations, and therefore it cannot be liable.
The lawyers counter that its conduct would still violate “what according to unwritten law has to be regarded as proper social conduct” as defined in the Dutch civil code.
The lawsuit against Four Winds K9 sets a clear example that companies involved in Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights can be held accountable.