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Belhas v. Ya’alon

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Synopsis

Belhas v. Ya’alon is a class action lawsuit filed against retired Israeli Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon that charges him with war crimes and extra-judicial killing for his role in the Israel Defense Forces’s (IDF) attack on a United Nations compound in Qana, Lebanon that killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken shelter there, and injured many more.

Status

On December 10, 2007, an oral argument was heard before Judges David Sentelle, Karen Henderson and Stephen Williams, and on February 15, 2008, the judges affirmed the dismissal ending our case against Moshe Ya'alon.

Description

Belhas v. Ya’alon is a class action lawsuit brought against the former Head of the IDF Army Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon (ret.), under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). The suit charges that the defendant’s participation in the shelling of a UN compound in Qana, Lebanon that killed and injured hundreds of civilians constitute war crimes; extrajudicial killing; crimes against humanity; and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

In April 1996, the IDF conducted "Operation Grapes of Wrath," bombing villages in southern Lebanon for three weeks to pressure the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah. Due to the bombings, 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 in 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 Army Intelligence on April 18, 1996 when the IDF shelled the UN compound in Qana. The complaint alleges that Ya'alon participated in the decision to shell the compound and had command responsibility for the 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 and nine children were killed in the attack on the U.N. compound, as well as plaintiff 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 lost immediate relatives due to the IDF shelling. The plaintiffs seek damages and declaratory relief.

Plaintiffs argue that Ya’alon is not entitled to immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) because he was retired from the IDF at the time the suit was filed, and as a former official who acted outside the scope of his lawful authority in participating in the decision to shell the UN compound, he is not entitled to immunity. Plaintiffs further argue that to allow immunity for claims brought under the TVPA defeats the very purpose of the Act. Plaintiffs also submit that discovery is warranted, as an inquiry into Ya’alon’s duties and responsibilities is necessary to determine whether he was acting within the scope of his authority, and thus, in his official capacity.

Timeline

  • November 4, 2005: CCR filed a class action lawsuit on behalf those who were injured or killed in the 1996 shelling of the UN compound in Qana, Lebanon. CCR brought the case with CCR Cooperating Counsel Judith Brown Chomsky and Michael Poulshock, James Klimaski, Boston University School of Law Professor Susan Akram, and CCR Board Member Abdeen Jabara.
  • June 26, 2006: Defendant filed a motion to dismiss in the District of Columbia District Court.
  • May 15, 2006: Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion to dismiss.
  • December 14, 2006: Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case, finding that Ya'alon cannot be sued for the shelling of the UN compound because he enjoys immunity under the FSIA. Without granting Plaintiffs’ request for oral argument, and relying on a letter from the Israeli ambassador which stated that “anything” Ya’alon did was in the course of his official duties and that his acts were sovereign acts of Israel, the court decided that Ya’alon was acting in his “official capacity” at the time of the attack and thus was immune from suit.
  • January 12, 2007: CCR filed Plaintiffs’ notice of appeal.
  • August 30, 2007: Plaintiffs’ opening brief was filed.
  • August 31, 2007: The Center for Justice and Accountability filed an amicus brief in support of Plaintiffs.
  • October 15, 2007: Defendant’s brief on appeal filed.
  • November 15, 2007: Plaintiffs’ reply brief on appeal filed.
  • December 10, 2007: Oral argument to be heard.
  • February 15, 2008: The dismissal was affirmed.