On July 20th 2014 the Ziada family home in Bureij refugee camp in Gaza was bombed by Israeli military forces. 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.
Saad Ziada standing on the ruins of his home where 6 family members
from 3 generations were killed in an Israeli attack
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.
Death notice de Volksrant newspaper, 26th July 2014
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.
Israeli court ruling against Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish, who filed a compensation suit against the Israeli state over the killing of three of his daughters in IDF shelling in 2009 is proof, if proof were needed, that this is most certainly not the case.
A court hearing is expected to be scheduled in the second quarter of 2019 which will be the first time the court will actually consider the issues. Should the outcome be positive for Ismail Ziada it is now expected the Israeli military defendants will pursue the case up to the Dutch Supreme Court which can take several years and significant financial resources.
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. If justice Is to be gained for the Palestinian victims, the case needs our moral and financial support. The target is EUR 50,000.
The case being taken by the Ziadas has a real chance of a providing a major breakthrough and the establishment of a legal precedent that will benefit other Palestinians and hopefully prevent further Israeli war crimes.
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 law firm instructed in the case, Prakken d’Oliveira Human Rights lawyers in Amsterdam.