Israeli Defence Minster Benny Gantz and another former senior military officer cannot be held liable in a case brought by a Palestinian Dutch man who lost six relatives in a 2014 air attack in Gaza, a Dutch appeals court ruled.
Ismail Ziada’s mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law, a young nephew and a friend were killed in the attack during Israel’s 2014 offensive targeting Gaza.
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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture regardless of where they were committed.
Ziada’s case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020, which ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.
The case against Gantz and former air force commander Amir Eshel could not proceed because the men have “functional immunity from jurisdiction”, The Hague District Court ruled at the time.
The Hague Court of Appeal said on Tuesday the lower court was right to rule that Gantz – who was a senior military officer at the time of the attack – and Eshel had immunity because they were carrying out Israeli government policies.
“Dutch courts are not competent here to judge the claim. The [lower] court rightly decided that,” The Hague Court of Appeal said.
“High-ranking military personnel have carried out official policy of the state of Israel, which renders a judgement on their actions moribund.”
The court added it was “not blind to the plaintiff’s suffering”.
‘Farcical as well as vicious’
Reacting to the ruling, Gantz said he had been confident that he and Israel had been acting according to international law. “I am very happy that now other people have said the same,” Gantz he told Reuters news agency.
The court’s ruling did not address whether the bombing contravened international law.
Ziada’s lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld, said her client had yet to decide whether to appeal, but suggested prospects of overturning the ruling appeared slim.
“Chances that the Dutch Supreme Court will hold the Israeli military to account are small,” she said.
Israel’s Deputy Attorney General Roy Schondorf said the ruling set a legal precedent “that safeguards Israel’s military commanders as a whole”.
The lower court also said Ziada was free to sue the men in Israel. At hearings in 2019, Ziada rejected the idea that he has access to justice in Israel as “farcical as well as vicious”.
Israel’s defence minister since last year, Gantz was the chief of general staff of the Israeli army at the time of the air raid on the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza on July 20, 2014.
At least 2,251 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 74 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were killed in the 2014 fighting.