Ismail Zeyada, a Dutch citizen of Palestinian origin, has started a civil lawsuit holding two Israeli commanders responsible for the attack on his family home in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. Six of Ziada’s family members were killed in the July 2014 attack: his mother (70), three of his brothers, his sister-in-law and a 12-year old nephew. One of two guests were also killed. The family home was located in Al-Burayj, a Palestinian refugee camp in central Gaza.
The commanders are Benny Gantz, chief of staff during the operation, and Air Force commander Amir Eshel. Last Monday a writ of summons was sent to the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Both men have six weeks to accept liability and settle the case with Zeyada. Assuming this will not happen, the case will be brought before a Dutch civil court, that will have to judge if it has jurisdiction in this matter.
Zeyada’s attorney, well-known human rights lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, points out that there are solid arguments to be made why a Dutch civil judge should accept the case. Most important is the fact that Zeyada, as with most Palestinians, has no access to the Israeli legal system where the case belongs in the first place. Secondly, Israel already dealt with the Zeyada case – under military law – judging that the five-story family house was in fact an “active command and control center” for Hamas. Zegveld is straight forward about that argument: ‘The issue is that you can’t bomb a house inhabited by civilians. Deliberately killing six of them, without necessity, is considered a war crime.’
It should be noted that a total of 18,000 private houses were destroyed during Operation Protective Edge.
News about the Zeyada case broke last Tuesday in the Dutch television program Brandpunt. Part of the program, titled ‘In Search of Justice’, was shot on location in Gaza where Ismail Zeyada’s brother Hasan, a psychologist working with traumatized children, still lives. In the program witnesses of the attack explain that there was nothing military-related going on in the family home even though one of the killed brothers was an active member of Hamas; he was found under the rubble in his underwear. The killed guest, paying a visit to the Zeyada family, was also a member of Hamas. This is the scene described by Israel as an active Hamas command center – and as a legitimate reason to blow the house apart, including its civilian residents.
Attorney Zegveld summarizes: ‘More than two thousand Palestinians were killed in fifty days. The standard narrative is that all these people were supposedly in the direct vicinity of terrorists, so in order [for Israel] to win the war they all had to die.’ Zegveld says it’s time that Israel is called to account for these practices, and sees the Zeyada case as a small but significant step toward that goal. She calls the case unique – the first time Israeli military commanders are being kept responsible for their acts in a civil court case.
It’s not the first time the Zeyada case made headlines. In August 2014, just weeks after the fatal attack on the Zeyada house, a 91-year old Dutchman called Henk Zanoli returned his Yad Vashem medal, awarded to him for hiding a Jewish boy during the Second World War. Zanoli, a relative of Ismail Zeyada’s wife, protested the hypocrisy of honoring him as ‘The Righteous Among The Nations’ for saving one jewish life, while taking the lives of six of his Palestinian family members.