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Appeal Argues Former IDF Official Liable for Deaths of More than 100 Lebanese Civilians in 1996 Bombardment of Qana
Jen Nessel, CCR, email@example.com
David Lerner, Riptide Communications, 212.260.5000
December 10, 2007, Washington, DC – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argued the appeal of CCR’s class-action civil case charging a former Israeli official with war crimes and extrajudicial killing for his role in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) shelling of a UN compound in Lebanon. The bombardment killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians – about half of them children – who had taken shelter there. Representatives from the Lebanese and the Israeli embassies were present in the court, and the judges appeared to recognize the importance of the case, say attorneys.
The case – Belhas v. Ya’alon – was filed in 2005. The plaintiffs are all Lebanese citizens who were injured and/or lost relatives in the attack. In December 2006, Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case, stating that Ya'alon could not be sued for the shelling of the UN compound. Relying on the fact that Ya’alon was a government official at the time and a letter from the Israeli Ambassador stating that Ya’alon’s acts were sovereign acts of Israel, the court decided that Ya’alon was acting in his official capacity in the IDF, and thus immune under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).
“In 1996, the residents of Qana fled to the UN compound believing that they could be safe there, and the Israeli forces intentionally struck this refuge,” said CCR Cooperating Attorney Judith Brown Chomsky. “One of the perpetrators of that attack came to enjoy the benefits of living in the United States. The U.S. should not be a safe haven for those responsible for a deadly attack on unarmed civilians.”
In April 1996, the IDF conducted “Operation Grapes of Wrath,” bombarding villages in southern Lebanon for three weeks. Due to the attacks, approximately 400,000 people were forced to leave their homes. Many did not have the means to escape the area and took refuge in places they hoped might provide some safety. Lebanese civilians who were unable to leave the south fled to UN compounds; more than 800 civilians – mostly women, children, and the elderly – had sought refuge in the UN compound in Qana. The IDF then targeted the compound, killing more than 100 civilians and injuring even more.
Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon was the head of IDF Intelligence on April 18, 1996 when the shelling occurred. The complaint alleges that Ya'alon participated in the decision to shell the compound and had command responsibility for the unlawful attack. The suit also alleges that the IDF continued to shell the compound even after the UN specifically notified the IDF that it was shelling a UN position in which civilians were taking shelter.
The plaintiffs include Saadallah Ali Belhas, whose wife, nine children, and numerous relatives were killed in the attack on the UN compound, as well as Ali Mohammed Ismail, whose wife and three children were killed. Plaintiffs Ibrahim Khalil Hammoud, Raiman Nasseeb, Hamidah Sharif Deeb, and Hala Yassim Khalil each suffered disabling injuries, and most lost immediate relatives due to the IDF shelling. The plaintiffs are seeking damages and declaratory relief.
“Our clients went to the UN facility seeking to keep their families safe,” said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. “Instead they saw their children and other loved ones massacred before their eyes, as shrapnel entered their own bodies. Almost twelve years later and they have yet to see justice."
Today, before the D.C. Court of Appeals, CCR attorneys argued that the district court judge erroneously applied the FSIA in his ruling, as Ya’alon was no longer a government official when sued and because his decision to shell the UN compound sheltering civilians violated international law as well as Israeli law and policy.
In July 2006, Qana again came under an Israeli attack that killed at least 28 Lebanese civilians, about half of whom were children, when it targeted a three-story apartment building where two extended families had taken shelter.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.