On January 29th 2020 a principled Palestinian will be making history in a legal action against two Israeli military commanders for the killing of six family members during the carnage inflicted on the people of Gaza in the summer of 2014. The case being brought by Ismail Ziada is the first time a Palestinian has used civil litigation on the basis of universal jurisdiction to gain access to justice for war crimes.
What has become known as “the Ziada case” in international media is about more than one family. Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) during their so-called “Operation Protective Edge”. The vast majority were non-combattants and over 500 were under eighteen years of age. The world community was appalled and yet remained standing passively on the sidelines.
The Ziada family home in Bureij refugee camp in Gaza was levelled by a deliberate, targeted Israeli bombing that reduced the three storey building instantly to rubble and left 3 generations of the family fatally wounded. Amongst the dead were Ismail Ziada’s 70-year old Mother Muftia whose life’s work had been raising her ten children after the death of her husband when her youngest child Omar was only four. He lay dead beside her. Her son Jamil and his wife Bayan were also among the dead, along with their 12 year old son Shaban and another of Muftia’s sons Youssef.
Ismail Ziada, originally from Palestine, now a Dutch citizen living in the Netherlands, has committed himself to holding those responsible for the killing of his family accountable. His lawyer is Liesbeth Zegveld, prominent in her field and specializing in support for victims of war crimes and human rights violations.
The case is historical in legal terms and a result of the Netherlands upholding a system of universal jurisdiction in civil proceedings for Dutch citizens who are unable to gain access to justice elsewhere. Ziada openly admits his reservations about taking the civil route. His aim is to ensure some form of accountability and the family is at pains to stress that the legal action is not being taken for personal gain. Financial compensation could never be any consolation for the devastating loss.
The lawsuit is demanding $600,000 in damages plus court costs from two named commanding officers. Should it be successful, any compensation received will be dedicated to a fund under the auspices of the Nuhanovic Foundation to support Palestinian war crime victims in general and children in particular.
Papers were served on both the Chief of General Staff of the IDF at the time of the bombing, Benny Gantz and the Commander of the IDF Air Force, Amir Eshel. Both officers have since retired and Gantz has formed a new political party “Hosen Yisrael” (Israel Resilience Party) which is currently vying with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party Likud for the title of most popular party in Israel.
After several years of Israeli heel-dragging, delays and postponements the first step in the quest for justice came in the form of the court hearing on September 17th 2019. The Ziada writ is focused on the fact that the bombing of the family home was illegal and a war crime according to international law. The defendants response focuses exclusively on the right to immunity and the Dutch court’s alleged lack of jurisdiction based on the outlandish argument that Ismail Ziada would have access to justice in Israel (!).
In Ziada’s moving opening statement to the court in September last year he described the Israeli representatives’ “misrepresentation of facts” as both “farcical but most of all vicious.” Quoting the Palestinian artist Rafeef Ziada he said: “Palestinians get up every day to teach the rest of the world life. This, I think, is a fair reflection of what our family is continuing to do every single day since July 20, 2014”
Ziada is well aware of the monumental task he has taken on board. At the hearing he made an impassioned appeal to the Dutch judges: “All that I have shared might leave you with the impression that I am, in some way, appealing to your sense of pity or sympathy. I am not. If there is a parable to compare my reality with, then I think of David and Goliath. Those on the other side obviously representing Goliath, me David. Holding my head held high and convinced of doing the right thing – seeking justice and accountability.”
After a full day of deliberations in a packed courtroom the panel of judges announced that a public pronouncement will be made on January 29th 2020, now just a few weeks away.
Ziada’s family in the Netherlands has been under enormous pressure. The brakes of the family car were cut last year and Ziada’s wife Angélique Eijpe, a Dutch diplomat, was publicly attacked by the pro-Israel lobby organization CIDI. A week before the hearing, Twitter suspended the account of the Palestine Justice Campaign, which has been an important support group for the legal action. The social media company alleged an unspecified “breach of rules” and refused to respond to requests for clarification from the campaign.
The Ziada family has been using their own personal funds and contributions from friends and supporters to pursue their case on behalf of all the victims of Israeli war crimes. Nearly 1,000 people and organizations have contributed to the online crowdfunder in support of the Ziada family’s lawsuit.
The international campaign has also received broad support from prominent people like author Susan Abulhawa, academic Dr. Ilan Pappe, Dr. Norman Finkelstein, Irish Senator Frances Black, Dr. Swee Ang, Miko Peled, Dr Zulaiha Ismail, Carlos Latuff and George Galloway. Rock legend Roger Waters gave the fundraiser a major boost in a magnificent gesture of solidarity which enabled the family to pursue the case.
Should the outcome at the end of January be positive for the family it is expected the Israeli military defendants will appeal and pursue the case up to the Dutch Supreme Court something which may well take several years and significant financial resources. If justice is to be achieved, the case needs our full support. Every donation large or small helps the Ziada family struggle for justice. Please contribute what you can and encourage others to do the same.
100% of funds raised will go towards the legal fees incurred in the litigation of the case and transferred directly to the Nuhanovic Foundation, a registered non-profit charity which assists war victims who seek access to justice to obtain a remedy in the form of reparation, restitution or compensation.
Information relating to the first court hearing is available here and includes Ismail Ziada’s opening statement.
Palestine Justice Campaign
The online crowdfunder is here – please donate what you can
 The Palestine Justice Campaign is an international single-issue group of trade unionists, concerned citizens and human rights workers who volunteer to support the Ziada family in their pursuit of justice.