Palestinian sues Israeli military commanders for war crimes

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Israel Elections

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his wife Revital vote in Rosh Haayin, Israel, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. Israelis began voting Tuesday in an unprecedented repeat election that will decide whether longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stays in power despite a looming indictment on corruption charges. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Pitching his case as a David-versus-Goliath fight, a Dutch-Palestinian man went to court in the Netherlands Tuesday seeking damages from two former Israeli military commanders for their roles in a 2014 airstrike on a Gaza house that killed six members of his family.

One of the commanders is Benny Gantz, a retired military chief who is now a leading candidate in Israel's elections, also taking place Tuesday. The other is former Israeli air force commanders Amir Eshel.

Ismail Zeyada brought the case in The Hague District Court because he argues he cannot successfully hold Israeli military leaders accountable in Israeli courts.

"If there is a parable to compare my reality with, I think of David and Goliath," Zeyada told the three-judge panel. "Those on the other end obviously representing Goliath, me David; holding my head held high and convinced of doing the right thing; seeking justice and accountability."

Neither Gantz nor Eshel was in court, but Dutch lawyers representing the men urged judges to throw out the case for lack of jurisdiction, arguing they have immunity because their actions in the 2014 Gaza conflict were part of a state-sanctioned military operation and that Zeyada was free to sue them in Israel.

"There is no good reason why the plaintiff cannot or has not filed his claims with an Israeli civil court," lawyer Cathalijne van der Plas told judges.

Zeyada rejected the idea that he has access to justice in Israel as "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," he said.

Israel's Justice Ministry said in January it had asked the court to dismiss the allegations. It said that an internal Israeli military investigation determined the airstrike had killed four militants hiding in the house. It said the attack was permissible under international law, and argued the Dutch court does not have jurisdiction. Gaza's Hamas rulers themselves have said that two militants were in the building.

Gantz's centrist Blue and White party is running level in the polls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, and the former military chief has positioned himself as the most viable candidate to replace the long-serving Netanyahu. Gantz has campaigned on his clean record and military pedigree, pledging to combat corruption and professing his devotion to state institutions that Netanyahu has assailed.

After bragging during a previous election campaign about the number of Palestinian militants killed under his command during the 2014 war in Gaza, Gantz has largely avoided the topic during the do-over campaign ahead of Tuesday's voting.

Zeyada opened the hearing with an emotional statement to the court, outlining his loss.

"My mother, Muftia Zeyada, who was 70 years old at the time of her death. My eldest brother Jamil and his precious wife Bayan. Their 12-year-old son Shaban. My two other brothers, Youssef and Omar," he told judges.

He said the case was a matter of principle, not about money.

"As I made clear earlier, if compensation would ever be paid it will be donated in its entirety," he said.


Associated Press writers Josef Federman and Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed.