April 18, 2008, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), commemorates the 12th anniversary of the 1996 shelling by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of the UN compound in Qana, Lebanon and calls for justice and for Israel to compensate the survivors. The bombardment killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken shelter there – about half of them children – and seriously injured even more.

In 2005, CCR filed a case on behalf of Lebanese citizens who lost relatives or were injured in the attack. The case was brought against Lieutenant General Moshe Ya’alon, who was the head of IDF Intelligence on April 18, 1996 and was involved in the decision to shell the compound. The case – Belhas v. Ya’alon – was dismissed in December 2006 by a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where Ya’alon had been living after he retired from the IDF. Relying on 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). CCR appealed that decision, but on February 15, 2008, the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, ending CCR’s case against Ya'alon.

“Today, we remember the more than 100 women, men, and children who were killed by the IDF 12 years ago. These families went to the UN compound because they believed they would be safe there. Instead, those who survived saw their children and other loved ones massacred before their eyes, as shrapnel cut through their own bodies,” said CCR Attorney Maria LaHood. “Although the Qana survivors have been denied justice everywhere they have turned, including the U.S. courts, we will continue to call on Israel to be accountable for its crimes and to compensate the survivors.”

Haidar Bitar, whose young sons were killed in the 1996 Qana massacre, described what happened in an op-ed yesterday in The Progressive (www.progressive.org):

“Twelve years ago, two of my children left our home in Dearborn, Michigan, to visit my mother in the village where I grew up: Qana. She wanted to see her grandchildren, Abdul-Mohsen, who was 9, and Hadi, who was 8. She missed seeing them grow up, playing outside, riding their bikes.

“Abdul-Mohsen dreamt of being a doctor. Hadi hoped to be an engineer.

“The last time I spoke to my sons, they told me that they had to flee with their grandmother from her home because the Israeli army had announced it was going to bomb the area. My mother was old and could not drive, so the closest place to seek safety was the United Nations compound. Like so many other civilians, they sought refuge there. I assured them they would be safe.

“I was listening to the radio at work when I heard that the Israel Defense Forces had attacked the compound in Qana. I rushed home and frantically called Lebanon. My brother told me the unbearable news: my boys were dead.”

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.

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 works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


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April 18, 2008