Today, Ismail Ziada, represented by Dutch lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, has filed a notice of appeal against the decision of the District Court of The Hague on the case brought against Benny Gantz, former Chief of General Staff of the Israeli armed forces and Amir Eshel, former Commander of the Israeli air force for war crimes committed in Gaza. Mr Ziada contends that the court erred in its decision to offer functional immunity to the defendants, as such immunity is not enjoyed for war crimes.
Mr Ziada, who is of Palestinian origin, is seeking to hold the defendants accountable for the targeted attack on the Ziada family home on 20 July 2014 which resulted in the death of Mr Ziada’s 70-year-old mother, three brothers, his sister-in-law, a 12-year-old nephew and a visiting friend. Mr Ziada contends that the attack was a violation of international humanitarian law and constituted a gross violation of internationally recognised human rights principles.
The case was filed in Dutch courts as Mr Ziada, like many others, is unable to gain access to justice in Israel due to the discriminatory practices faced by Palestinians seeking accountability for war crimes. As a result, he is pursuing the case in accordance with Dutch law which upholds the principle of universal jurisdiction in civil proceedings for individuals who are unable to gain access to justice elsewhere. It is a unique case and the first time a Palestinian has been able to make use of civil litigation on the basis of universal jurisdiction to gain access to justice for war crimes.
The District Court of The Hague previously heard oral arguments on the admissibility of the case on 17 September 2019 and the judgment on the admissibility of the case was subsequently rendered on 29 January 2020. On both occasions, neither Mr Gantz nor Mr Eshel were present.
The Ziada case is supported by hundreds of individuals and organisations through donations and an international crowdfunding campaign. For further information please contact the Palestine Justice Campaign spokesperson by email at or by telephone at +31 619895090.
Following the verdict on January 29th by the district court in The Hague, denying Mr Ismail Ziada access to pursue justice in the Dutch court system, Mr Ziada released the following statement:
“The verdict presented by the Court today is unacceptable for me and my family. Since 2014 we have pursued access to justice for the terrible loss we have suffered. This quest has come at a price – impacting us financially, emotionally and security wise. I am sure you can understand the disappointment I feel after all we have been through.
Having said this, there is not a doubt in my mind about continuing this fight for justice. I owe it to my own conscience but even more so to my mother, my brothers Jamil, Omer and Youssef and my sister in law Bayan and her son Shaban.
Beyond that and more important, I owe it to all the Palestinians who have suffered and continue to suffer the same fate, to continue this struggle to achieve what is denied to them: access to independent justice and accountability for the unspeakable crimes committed against them.
As long as the international community is unwilling to put a stop to the war crimes continuing to be perpetrated by Israel it is up to individuals like myself to do what can be done.So again, despite the sadness and disappointment, I am standing in front of you today with my head held high and ready to continue the quest for justice. I want to thank all of those prominent figures who have endorsed the campaign and the many organisations and individuals, too numerous to mention, who contributed their time, effort, energy and financial resources to allow us to continue.
Thank you for your practical support, but even more so for continuously reminding us of the tremendous amount of kindness, solidarity and compassion humanity is in fact capable of. Tonight I will breathe in and out, deeply – and from there we move forward.”
Official statement by Ismail Ziada at the Court hearing on September 17, 2019.
Your honours, it is a close to unspeakable tragedy due to which I am in this court today. The factual information about this tragedy is by now well known to you. What I would like to add to this factual information is some personal insight into the precious lives we lost. I struggled to stand in front of you today to gain justice and accountability on their behalf. In addition it is crucial to also mention those left behind and to address the quest I have been on to be here with you today.
I attach importance to mentioning the names of those I lost; my mother, Muftia, my brother Jamil and his wife Bayan. Their 12 year old son Shaban. My two other brothers, Youssef and Omar.I also would like to provide you with just a glimpse into who they were. My mom Muftia was expelled from her village Fallujah as a young child and grew up in a refugee camp in Gaza. Her life was dedicated to raising us and lifting us out of poverty.
My sister in law Bayan, a woman with many talents. Lost to the world but most to the children she left behind. Jamil, my bright, soft-spoken eldest brother who went out to work from the age of 15, doing hard labour to support the entire family, thereby enabling us to get an education, lifting us out of the extreme poverty we had been locked into. Youssef, the joker of the family and Omar our last ‘little’ brother. Both left a wife and young children.
Apart from the lives lost I want to mention those still here. As the Palestinian poet Rafeef Ziada says, ‘Palestinians get up every day to teach the rest of the world life’. This is what my family continued to do every single day since 2014. There were those in my family graduating from high school or university. Some got married. My brother Hassan continued his work as a trauma psychologist while doing what he could to support our orphaned nephews and nieces. I have had a relative privilege, being able to live and raise my children in the safety of The Netherlands. However, this privilege came at a price, being isolated from my family in Gaza with virtually no possibility for us to visit one another due to the continuing Gaza blockade.
Despite of what happened I also try to continue to teach life. To my wife, to our sons and the wider world around me. Me sitting here in front of you today bears witness to this too. But still, what happened has permanently scarred me and those close to me. Without wanting to get into personal detail here, the pain of this loss has impacted me, my wife, our marriage and, by extension, while we try our best to shield them, our boys.
The quest for justice and accountability I embarked upon is helpful as it is empowering to be able to try hold those responsible for the death of my family accountable. But again, there is a price to this. While the wound created by what happened will never completely heal I sometimes wonder if I’m not continuously scratching its surface. Not a day goes by without us speaking or dealing with something connected to this judicial process. I hope this ultimately helps me, helps us psychologically but, honestly, I am not entirely sure of this. Much also depends on the eventual outcome of this process.
Now it took convincing on the part of my wife, her late great-uncle Henk Zanoli and others for me to step into this trajectory. While my wife and her great-uncle shared a background in law, providing them with faith in legal recourse in The Netherlands, I had a different lived experience concerning the application and the merits of law. 2014 was not the first time I was impacted by Israeli army actions. I was shot with live ammunition in the leg. I was shot at very close range with a rubber coated metal bullet in the head. I witnessed another boy being shot in the head next to me, dying on the spot. I was beaten up severely by a group of Israeli soldiers. All this happened before I reached the age of 15.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the experiences I personally lived through for which no one was ever held accountable and for which recourse to any kind of justice was beyond imagination. A personal yet ‘normal’ experience for Palestinians that the legal team will elaborate on in their submissions.
Given this context it is painful that those representing the defendants argue to deny me access to justice yet again. Knowing a thing or two about the Israeli legal system and the way it works against Palestinians, I find the argumentation brought forward farcical as well as vicious. The manner in which the Israeli state has abused the concept of law to legitimize denial of basic rights to Palestinians is staggering and well documented by numerous organizations, Palestinian, international and Israeli alike.
I have faith that this court is able to recognize the concept of law is abused here as nothing but a fig leave to cover up what is in fact a system of occupation, oppression and denial of rights. On the matter of immunity I need to emphasize that if the court awards this I effectively have no recourse to justice at all. Awarding immunity here would be doing not only injustice in this case but would do harm to the very concept of justice as such. I will not even touch upon the morality of awarding immunity for a potential war crime.
Your honours, the road I have embarked upon has been long and difficult. Apart from the emotional and financial stress we experienced various forms of pressure along the way that I want to make you aware of.
Last December we faced a severe financial crisis as the submission of defendants required us to, in effect, build up another case. I was seriously considering giving up as we just didn’t have the Financial means to continue. We were in deep crisis. Right at that time the brake cable of our family car was cut, right in front of our home. We filed a case with the police but the investigation provided no leads.
Some of my relatives in Gaza urged me to drop the case after this happened and spend sleepless nights worrying about us. Based on the Palestinian lived experience, cut brake cables or a bomb under your car is not unimaginable. My wife always reassures me, and, I imagine, in some way herself too, that as a Dutch family and EU citizens we will be shielded from serious harm.
Nevertheless my personal concerns over our safety have increased since this incident. But there was more. In May the Israel lobby organization, CIDI, published an article on my wife claiming, among other things, that she is promoting, as they called it ‘ending Jewish democracy’ due to her work for The One State Foundation. A negative reference to this court case was also made. It resulted in the minister of foreign affairs, for whose ministry she also works, being called into parliament by a Freedom Party parliamentarian who branded her ‘an anti-Semitic stain in the corps diplomatique’ and asked for her to be fired.
In case you were not yet aware I also need to mention that, while this is a civil case, the defendants legal expenses are covered by the Israeli Ministry of Justice. We rely on our own limited Financial means and financial support we were able to obtain at grassroots level. While we received tremendous support of many, we continue to face a situation of financial duress and uncertainty. want to emphasize that this is a case of principle for me. It is likely the expenses we will make will far outdo any compensation. As I made clear earlier, if compensation would ever be paid it will be donated in its entirety.
All that I have shared could give the impression that I am appealing to your sense of pity or sympathy. I am not. I am here as a consequence of my relative privilege. Privilege other Palestinians affected by the systematic impunity they are exposed to don’t have. If there is a parable to compare my reality with I think of David and Goliath. Those on the other end representing Goliath and me, David; holding my head high and convinced of doing the right thing, seeking justice and accountability.
I am sure this case will put this court under professional and personal pressure. There is no doubt that apart from the legal arguments being brought forward by those I’m facing today there will be additional implicit or explicit political, diplomatic and popular pressure exerted on your court by forces supporting those I’m trying to hold accountable.
At this time access to justice is under pressure globally. The trend is pointing towards a global decrease in respect for the law, in particular where it concerns human rights. Despite this trend and despite the pressures your court will no doubt face I keep faith that you will do justice in this case. The Netherlands is promoting access to justice and ending impunity for war crimes. I have faith that this is the right place for me, a citizen of this country, to obtain access to justice.
This is a struggle for justice by a Dutch Palestinian but it is ultimately a universal struggle related to universal human pain and loss. It is likely that I and the ones I loved and lost may be perceived or be painted as perpetrators of violence as opposed to victims of state sanctioned violence. As People different from ‘us’, practicing a religion people have become suspicious of, dressing in ways People object to.
I don’t doubt the objectivity of this court but given the current climate I want to emphasize the universality of humanity this case touches upon as well as the universal importance of what I am asking you for; access to justice.
The Ziada family campaign for justice has received widespread international support from prominent human rights workers, academics, authors, legal and political figures, musicians and artists. The truth will out.
A principled Palestinian is making history in a legal action in a Dutch court against two Israeli military commanders for the killing of 6 family members from 3 generations, during the carnage inflicted by the Israeli war machine on the people of Gaza during the summer of 2014.
The first step in the quest for justice was the court hearing in the Hague in September 2019 . On January 29th 2020, the Dutch court rejected Ismail Ziada’s claim for the right to justice and accountability for warcrimes committed against his family and thousands of others in Palestine. You will find Ziada’s statement in response here.
The case being brought by Ismail Ziada is the first time a Palestinian has used civil litigation on the basis of universal jurisdiction to gain access to justice for war crimes.
Background to the Case
The Ziada family home in Bureij refugee camp in Gaza was bombed by Israeli military forces in July 2014. It was a targeted attack that reduced the three storey building instantly to rubble and left everyone inside it fatally wounded. Amongst the dead lay Ismail Ziada’s mother, three brothers, his sister-in-law, a 12 year old nephew and a visiting friend.
Over 2,000 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) during “Operation Protective Edge”. The vast majority were non-combattants and over a quarter of all people killed in the operation were children under eighteen years of age.
In the fall of that same year Ismail Ziada, a Dutch citizen resident in the Netherlands, contacted Liesbeth Zegveld, a prominent lawyer, specializing in support for victims of war crimes and human rights violations. Ziada was committed to holding those responsible for the killing of his family accountable.
The original suggestion of initiating a criminal case was soon put to one side as previous experience indicated that it was highly unlikely that the public prosecutor would initiate criminal proceedings. However, Zegveld pointed out that the Netherlands upholds a system of universal jurisdiction in civil proceedings for Dutch citizens who are unable to gain access to justice elsewhere.
Ziada had reservations about taking the civil route as financial compensation could never be any consolation for the loss of family members. However, after careful consideration it was agreed to pursue the civil trajectory with the aim of getting some form of accountability in place and establishing a precedent that could also benefit others and hopefully prevent further Israeli war crimes.
Papers were served on both the Chief of General Staff of the IDF at the time of the bombing, Benny Gantz and the Commander of the IDF Air Force, Amir Eshel. Both officers have since retired and Gantz has formed a new political party “Hosen Yisrael” (Israel Resilience Party) which is currently vying with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party Likud for the title of most popular party in Israel.
The original working assumption was that neither officer would respond to the writ and the court proceedings would take place in absentia. However, just before the 3 month time period for submission of a response expired, both Israeli military officers appointed a lawyer to represent them. In November 2018, they finally submitted a response.
Israeli army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, center, photographed on 20 July 2014, is being sued by Ismail Ziada for the bombing of his family’s home in Gaza that same day, resulting in the deaths of seven people including Ziada’s mother (via Flickr and The Electronic Intifada).
While the Ziada writ was focused on the fact that the bombing of the family home was illegal and a war crime according to international law, the response of the defendants focused exclusively on their alleged right to immunity and the Dutch court’s alleged lack of jurisdiction based on the argument that Ismail Ziada would have access to justice in Israel.
The Ziada family has been using their own personal funds and some generous contributions from friends and supporters to pursue their case on behalf of all the victims of Israeli war crimes. Last year Roger Waters gave our fundraiser a major boost in a magnificent gesture of solidarity. If justice Is to be gained for the Palestinian victims, the case needs our moral and financial support.
It is important for the family to stress that this legal action is not being taken for personal gain. Should it be successful, any compensation received will be dedicated to a specially established fund for Palestinian war crime victims in general and children in particular.
All funds raised will be transferred directly to the Nuhanovic Foundation, a registered non-profit charity which assists war victims who seek access to justice to obtain a remedy in the form of reparation, restitution or compensation. 100% of funds raised will go towards the legal fees incurred in the litigation of the case.