NEW YORK - August 31 - Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) appealed a lower court dismissal in a class-action civil case that charges 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, which killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians who had taken shelter there. The plaintiffs are all Lebanese citizens who were injured and/or lost relatives in the attack. The appeal was filed after a district court judge ruled that former IDF Lieutenant General Moshe Ya'alon was immune from being sued, a finding that directly contradicts established precedent.
"The court's refusal to hold Ya'alon accountable for violating U.S. and international law amounts to impunity for killing civilians taking shelter in a UN compound," said CCR Attorney Katherine Gallagher. "More than 11 years after the attack on Qana, the survivors are still seeking justice."
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 and nine children 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.
In December 2006, about a year after the case was filed, 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 Immunity Act (FSIA).
CCR attorneys are arguing that the district court judge erroneously applied the FSIA in his ruling, as Ya'alon was no longer a government official when sued and since his decision to shell the UN compound sheltering civilians violated international law, as well as Israeli law and policy.
In August 2006, Israel again targeted Lebanese civilians in Qana, killing at least 56 civilians, including 34 children, when it targeted a three-story apartment building where two extended families had taken shelter.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a non-profit legal
and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing
the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil
rights demonstrators in the South, CCR is committed to the creative
use of law as a positive force for social change."