A Dutch district court on Wednesday threw out a civil case against former Israeli Armed Forces chief Benny Gantz citing a lack of jurisdiction. The case was brought by Ismail Ziada, a Dutch Palestinian, who alleges that Gantz is responsible for an airstrike on Gaza in 2014 that killed six of his relatives.
The case was initially brought to the court under the legal doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which “refers to the idea that a national court may prosecute individuals for serious crimes against international law” under the theory that “such crimes harm the international community.” When this doctrine is applied, national courts are able to hear cases that they would not generally have jurisdiction over. However, the court rejected the case and ruled that universal jurisdiction does apply to individual criminal responsibility but cannot be applied to an exclusively civil matter.
The case arose out of the 2014 war against Palestinian militants in Gaza when Gantz was the chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces. In June 2014 an airstrike was allegedly carried out in Gaza that destroyed Ziada’s family home and killed six members of his family. Ziada is also seeking damages from the former commander of the Israeli air force, Amir Eshel. However, both military commanders have been shielded from prosecution under the long-standing legal tradition that certain roles in the government, such as military commanders, are personally immune from civil responsibility for decisions made in their position.
Notably, Gantz is now one of the leading political figures in Isreal and is the primary contender against the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election. Ziada is expected to appeal this decision in the coming weeks in the hope that a higher court will be willing to expand the purview of universal jurisdiction.