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  • 20:05 - 8 April 2019

Is Israel’s Benny Gantz Guilty of War Crimes?

By Naomi Zeveloff

 Israel’s election on April 9 culminates the most frenetic campaign season in recent memory. From the announcement by Israel’s attorney general of the indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust pending a hearing; to the TV report that his rival Benny Gantz’s cell phone was hacked by Iranian intelligence; to the recent ad in which Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked douses herself in a perfume labeled “Fascism,” political whiplash has become a way of life in Israel. And there are still four days until the vote.

As Israeli voters are glued to their smart phones following the latest developments, one Palestinian family is closely watching the election for another reason. The Ziada family lost six relatives in an Israeli bombing on its home during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Israel claims the house was a Hamas “command and control center”; the family maintains the home was a civilian building, not a legitimate military target.

Now one of its surviving members is suing Gantz, the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Netanyahu’s most credible challenger, for alleged war crimes.

Ismail Ziada is a Palestinian with Dutch citizenship who lives in Holland. In 2018, he filed suit against Gantz and another ex-general, Amir Eshel, in a Dutch civil court with international jurisdiction. The generals, whose legal defense is funded by Israel, are disputing the court’s authority in the case. 

In September, the court will decide whether to hear the lawsuit, according to Ziada’s lawyer, Liesbeth Zegveld. If it does, she says, it will set a critical precedent, demonstrating that Palestinians have no recourse in the Israeli court system and must seek justice abroad.

“The purpose has always been to show or demonstrate that Israeli courts do not give Palestinians access to impartial or independent courts,” says Zegveld. (Ziada declined to speak with The Nation.)

The election has raised the profile of the lawsuit, garnering media coverage in Israel and abroad. But it could also stop the case against Gantz in its tracks—at least for the time being. If Gantz wins and is able to form a government, he will have immunity from foreign prosecution as prime minister. Should that happen, Ziada will continue to pursue his claims against Eshel.

Twelve days ahead of the election, several of Ziada’s relatives gather in the living room of a home in Bureij, a Palestinian refugee camp in central Gaza. It’s the end of a tense week in the region. Days earlier a rocket from Gaza destroyed a house north of Tel Aviv. Israel responded with missile strikes throughout the strip. Now, a shaky cease-fire seems to be holding. It’s market day in Bureij, and the potholed streets are choked with cars and people. But inside the dimly lit house, it is quiet.

A towering gray compound with black metal gates, the house was built on the site of the home that was bombed in 2014. It was completed just last year with the help of foreign aid. Qatar funded the first floor, says the family, Kuwait the second, and Saudi Arabia the third and fourth.

The house is identical to the one that was bombed, its design a show of fealty to the family members who once lived there. The familiarity is comforting to the survivors, but it also serves as a constant reminder of their loss.

“My mother used to sit here when she was reading the Quran,” says Hasan Zeyada, gesturing to a chair near a shaded window. Muftia Mohamed Ziada memorized the tome after years of study. At 70, she was the oldest victim in the bombing. She is buried in a nearby cemetery, along with three of her sons, a daughter-in-law, and a grandchild who died in the attack.


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