Dutch court not competent to hear war crimes case against Israel's Gantz

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Dutch district court on Wednesday threw out a case alleging war crimes against former Israeli Armed Forces chief Benny Gantz brought by a Dutch Palestinian who lost six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014, saying it did not have jurisdiction.

FILE PHOTO: Israel's centrist party leader Benny Gantz arrives on a flight via Zurich ahead of his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, at Dulles International Airport near Washington, U.S. January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

The civil case for damages was filed referring to universal jurisdiction rules by claimant Ismail Ziada.

Judicial authorities in countries that recognize universal jurisdiction for serious offences such as war crimes and torture can investigate and prosecute those crimes no matter where they were committed.

“A Dutch judge is not competent to rule on the case of the claimant,” presiding Judge Larisa Alwin said, explaining that universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility but not in a civil case.

In civil cases in national courts, Gantz enjoys immunity from prosecution due to his government function at the time of the alleged crimes, Alwin said.

A career soldier, Gantz was chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces from 2011 until his retirement in 2015. He was commander during the 2014 war against Palestinian militants in Palestinian-run Gaza, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians during the conflict. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers were killed and five civilians.

During the June 2014 air strike that Ziada was trying to claim damages for, his family’s home in the Gaza strip was bombed. He lost his mother, three brothers, a sister-in-law and his 12-year old nephew in the blast.

Besides Gantz, he also sought the possibility of getting damages from the former commander of the Israeli air force, Amir Eshel.

Ziada told reporters he was very disappointed with the verdict but said he would fight on.

“Israel still enjoys impunity, everybody sees that and then the only opportunity to get justice is denied. This is unacceptable to me,” he said.

He is expected to appeal but said he would study the ruling before making a final decision.

Gantz is the main rival facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an election in Israel on March 2, Israel’s third in less than a year after inconclusive ballots in April and September.

Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Angus MacSwan