Dutch appeals court rules that Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz is immune from civil prosecution in the Netherlands in a case linked to the deaths of six Palestinians in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.

Ismail Ziada lost his mother, three brothers, sister-in-law, and a nephew during an Israeli air strike on blockaded Gaza in 2014.
Ismail Ziada lost his mother, three brothers, sister-in-law, and a nephew during an Israeli air strike on blockaded Gaza in 2014. (Peter Dejong / AP)

A Dutch appeals court has ruled that Israeli Defence Minster Benny Gantz cannot be held liable in a case brought by a man who lost six relatives in a 2014 air strike in besieged Gaza.

"Dutch courts are not competent here to judge the claim. The (lower) court rightly decided that," The Hague appeals court said on Tuesday. 

Ismail Ziada, a Dutch-Palestinian man, lost his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law, a young nephew, and a friend in the strike during Israel's Operation Protective Edge targeting the tiny Palestinian enclave.

Ziada had appealed against a ruling by The Hague district court in January 2020 that it had no jurisdiction under international law in the case, which named Gantz and a former Israeli air force chief.

In the suit, Ziada sought unspecified damages against Gantz – a career soldier turned politician – under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules.

"High-ranking military personnel have carried out the official policy of the state of Israel, which renders a judgment on their actions moribund," the court observed.

The court added that it was "not blind to the plaintiff's suffering."

Israel killed more than 2,000 in Gaza

Israel's defence minister since last year, Gantz was the chief of general staff of the Israeli defence force at the time of the air strike on the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza on July 20, 2014.

The case also named former Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel.

Israel's military operation left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side, most of them civilians, and 74 on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

Prospects of overturning ruling slim

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 told Reuters news agency.

The judges said universal jurisdiction – which allows countries to prosecute serious offences committed elsewhere – could not be applied in civil damages cases in the Netherlands, even if they concerned alleged war crimes.

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 told Reuters by text message.

Source: AFP