Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu's election rival sued over Gaza war crimes

A Dutch-Palestinian man is accusing Benny Gantz of killing six in Israel's 2014 operation

Retired Israeli general Benny Gantz (C), is pictured during an electoral campaign tour, in the city of Rishon Letzion, south of the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on February 1, 2019. AFP
Retired Israeli general Benny Gantz (C), is pictured during an electoral campaign tour, in the city of Rishon Letzion, south of the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on February 1, 2019. AFP

The main challenger to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the country’s upcoming elections is being sued for war crimes allegedly committed during the 2014 Gaza War.

Benny Gantz is the subject of a lawsuit filed at the Hague by Ismail Ziada, a Dutch-Palestinian citizen born in the enclave’s Al Bureij refugee camp.

Six of his family members, including his mother and three brothers, were killed in an Israeli military bombing raid on the camp that struck their family home. Mr Gantz was commanding the military at the time.

The claim is also filed against Amir Eshel, the Israeli Air Force commander at the time of the bombing raid. Mr Ziada filed the complaint in March 2018, forcing both accused Israeli men to hire Dutch legal representation to challenge the lawsuit. The Israeli state is funding their legal defence.

Mr Ziada’s argument is that Israel’s military used unwarranted deadly force in densely populated areas without mitigating the potential dangers posed to civilians. Those actions, which he calls war crimes, are not being probed in Israel, he is arguing. He also says that Israel’s court system is discriminatory towards Palestinians and prevents them from having a fair chance at receiving compensation.

As such, his lawyer says that he is able to file a complaint at a Dutch court. But the representative of Mr Gantz and Mr Eshel says that it does not have jurisdiction and never filed one in an Israeli court, so cannot say that his case was discriminated against.

The Israeli military’s six-week campaign, known as Operation Protective Edge, killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel said it invaded Gaza in a bid to dismantle a tunnel network that crossed into its territory. Palestinians say that Israel’s military used disproportionate force against the territory’s civilian population.

Israel says that it probed certain controversial incidents in the war, but rights groups accuse the Israeli military of protecting its soldiers from punishment and whitewashing crimes committed in the conflict.

In Mr Ziada’s case, the military’s attorney-general chose to close the investigation. The Israeli military claimed that it was targeting a Hamas base in the refugee camp. Mr Ziada says only his youngest brother was a member of Hamas and played no active role in the group’s battle against Israel in that summer conflict.

Mr Gantz has now established his own political party and he is running on a centrist platform. He is the only viable challenger to Mr Netanyahu, who will become Israel’s longest-serving leader if he secures victory again in April elections. But he has been in office since 2009 and remains engulfed in corruption allegations.

The Israeli general turned political contender is now in talks with another centrist, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, about joining in coalition to defeat Mr Netanyahu. Polls show that is now a possibility with two months remaining before the vote takes place.

Updated: February 3, 2019 04:29 PM