The Electronic Intifada / December 6, 2021
On Tuesday, a court in The Hague will rule whether a lawsuit for war crimes can proceed against Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz and former air force chief Amir Eshel.
It’s the latest stage in Palestinian-Dutch citizen Ismail Ziada’s effort to obtain justice for Israel’s 2014 bombing of his family home in Gaza killing his mother and six others.
Gantz was Israeli army chief at the time.
The Electronic Intifada spoke to Roger Waters about why he has been supporting Ziada’s legal action.
The rock star remembers seeing a report about the family and what had been done to them.
“Reading the story I was moved, feeling miserable and sad,” he recalls.
“The name Ziada stuck in my head and I learned that some Palestinian bloke in Holland” was suing Gantz and Eshel, he says. “That’s how I became involved.”
“This is happening every single day, every minute of every day this is happening to some Palestinian family,” Waters adds. “We can’t write about them all.”
But Waters saw a chance to support justice in at least one case.
“The sands are shifting”
In September, Ziada appealed a district court ruling that the two Israeli commanders enjoy immunity for their alleged crimes because they committed them while acting in an official capacity.
This week Ziada will learn whether his appeal was successful, opening the door for the case to continue, or whether justice for Palestinians has hit another dead end.
Ziada is represented by Liesbeth Zegveld, a well-respected human rights lawyer. She argues that war crimes are committed by individuals, not by states.
The Nuremberg Principles – established during the trials of senior Nazis after World War II – explicitly state that those committing war crimes cannot claim immunity because they acted on behalf of a state or because they were executing orders.
Gantz and Eshel are therefore responsible as individuals for the bombardment that killed Ziada’s family, Zegveld argues.
“I love that we together, all of us who support Ismail Ziada are at least insisting that the world point a camera and a microphone at the arguments made at that courtroom in The Hague,” Waters says.
“It is maybe the only place in the world where a judge or a panel of judges are hearing the arguments because they are certainly not hearing it in Israel.”
Waters sees the case as a chance for those working for justice in Palestine to reach out and educate others at a time when opinions are changing.
“The sands are shifting beneath our feet all the time,” he tells this reporter. “I would like to encourage the choir to whom both you and I are speaking to sing louder. We are gaining a foothold.”
“You’ve got to take to the streets,” he urges. “Join all those pro-Palestinian protests.”
“You have to be in front of the Bundestag with that other 500 or 600 people or whatever tiny number it is,” he says, wishing that “half the German population” would come out and protest in front of their country’s parliament.
“Or you have to be outside the courthouse in The Hague standing shoulder to shoulder with your brothers and sisters demonstrating,” Waters adds.
Waters says he only got involved in Palestine advocacy in 2006.
He credits journalism and films like 5 Broken Cameras with helping educate him about realities in Palestine, including cases like Ziada’s.
Waters has also been reading The Electronic Intifada for a long time, since a “bloke sidled up at me at a gig one day and said, eh, could I just have a word about something.”
Prior to his solo career, Waters played with the legendary rock band Pink Floyd. He wrote one of the band’s best known songs, “Another Brick in the Wall.”
It became a protest anthem for Black students in South Africa, leading to the apartheid regime banning it there in 1980.
Today, Israel – which practices apartheid against Palestinians – and its lobby also see Waters as a threat.
“They attacked me in every possible way except for banning songs,” Waters responds when asked about the reaction to his advocacy for Palestinian rights.
He says that his songs are popular in Israel, but suggests that “they don’t quite get what any of it is about obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t be so popular.”
Waters suspects that some would like him “to go and whitewash the regime by singing songs in Israel” – which as a supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, he would refuse to do.
The rock star has long worked with veterans groups, a cause close to his heart.
But Waters says that this charity work received “collateral damage” because of his support for Palestinian rights.
“The lobby in the United States has been vicious,” he says, accusing Israel supporters of pressuring veterans groups not to work with him.
“And that has happened again, again and again,” he adds.
“I got letters from colleagues saying your career is about to end, and it will happen very suddenly and you will disappear and you will never be heard of again,” Waters states.
“They have been unequivocal in their attempts to get me to shut up.”
For Waters, the constant accusations of anti-Semitism feel very personal.
“My father, the son of a coal miner from County Durham, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, eventually got a degree from Durham University, went off and taught divinity, history and English in Jerusalem between 1935 and 1938, and subsequently died in Italy on February 18, 1944, fighting the Nazi menace,” he wrote in 2014 in response to Israel lobby attacks.
“Do not dare to presume to preach to me, my father’s son, about anti-Semitism or human rights.”
But the pressure hasn’t worked. “I don’t take any notice of the smears anymore,” Waters says now.
Almost anyone involved in Palestine advocacy can identify with Waters’ experiences of being smeared as an anti-Semite. If anything, he sees the tactic as a sign of weakness on Israel’s part.
“It is laughable because I have never said anything anti-Semitic in my life. Have I criticized the Zionist and apartheid State of Israel? Yes, of course I have,” he says.
“We have to apply the basic, decent rules that are enshrined in international law and our promise of human rights to all our brothers and sisters enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.”
Speaking to Israel – and specifically its strategic affairs ministry that orchestrated many smear campaigns in recent years – Waters adds: “You have to be persuaded that you must stand behind those things as well, or be treated as beyond the bounds of decent human behavior and be treated as a pariah state.”
Waters is of course hoping that Ziada’s case will be successful. But no matter what the judges decide, the case is part of the bigger, ongoing struggle for justice in Palestine.
Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa