The Dutch Supreme Court issued a ruling on Friday confirming that two senior Israeli military commanders are entitled to legal immunity in a civil lawsuit concerning their alleged involvement in the 2014 killing of a Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip. The decision reaffirms a previous lower court ruling from 2021 that, based on customary international law, foreign state officials are immune from civil lawsuits in Dutch courts for acts carried out while performing a “public function.”
The ruling of functional immunity holds even if these officials could potentially face criminal charges for war crimes related to the same actions. Ismail Ziada, a Palestinian-Dutch citizen and the plaintiff in the case, expressed disappointment and anger regarding the decision, claiming that the court prioritized politics over justice and denied access to justice for the victims.
Ziada had initiated legal proceedings against Benny Gantz, who was the Israeli occupation army chief at the time, and Amir Eshel, the former air force chief, for their role in the bombing of his family’s home during the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. The attack resulted in the destruction of the family’s three-story building in the al-Bureij refugee camp and claimed the lives of several family members, including Ziada’s mother, brothers, sister-in-law, and a visiting relative.
Gantz, who has held various high-level positions in the Israeli government since the attack, faced criticism for celebrating the assault on Gaza during an election campaign in 2019. He boasted to Israeli voters about the devastation inflicted on the region.
Human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who represents Ziada, argued that functional immunity is not absolute and that restrictions on the exercise of the right to access a court must be justified by the circumstances of the case. Ziada contended that granting absolute civil immunity to foreign states and officials would disproportionately restrict his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, as there is no other legal recourse available to him as a Palestinian from Gaza.
However, the Dutch Supreme Court’s decision rejected this argument, stating that Gantz and Eshel were acting within their public function when involved in the bombing and therefore enjoyed immunity from jurisdiction, irrespective of the nature and gravity of the acts.
Ziada’s case, which began five years ago, has been a protracted legal battle for justice for his family and the countless Palestinian families affected by Israeli occupation actions. Despite the setback, Ziada remains determined to pursue accountability for what he views as war crimes committed by Israeli officials. He is now reviewing the judgment with his legal team to assess the possibility of taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
The ruling rekindles debates about the accountability of Israeli officials for violations of international law and the rights of victims seeking redress. As the legal proceedings continue, the case stands as a poignant example of the complex intersection between international law, politics, and human rights in the context of Israeli violations against Palestinians.