On December 15, 2005, in New York, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) served process papers on Lt. Gen. (ret.) Moshe Ya’alon, former Head of the Intelligence Branch and former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), for war crimes and other human rights violations. The class action lawsuit is in connection with the hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries in the 1996 shelling of a United Nations compound in Qana, in the south of Lebanon. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and process was served on the defendant this afternoon in Washington, D.C. The charges include war crimes, extrajudicial killing, crimes against humanity, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
A 37-year veteran of the IDF, Lt. Gen. Ya’alon retired in June as the IDF’s Chief of Staff. He was the head of the IDF Intelligence Branch on April 18, 1996, when the IDF deliberately shelled a U.N. compound in Qana, killing over 100 civilians and wounding hundreds, including U.N. personnel; 800 displaced civilians had sought shelter there from the shelling of their villages by the IDF. The U.N. launched an investigation and denounced the IDF attack as violating the rules of international humanitarian law.
Plaintiff Saadallah Ali Belhas’s wife and nine children were killed in the attack on the U.N. compound. His son, Ali Saadallah Belhas, lost his wife and three young children. The wife and three children of Ali Mohammed Ismail were also killed. 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.
Last week, CCR and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) brought a class action lawsuit against Avi Dichter, the former Director of Israel’s General Security Service, on behalf of fifteen Palestinians who were killed and more than 150 who were injured when the IDF dropped a one-ton bomb on al-Daraj, a residential neighborhood in Gaza City on July 22, 2002.
Judith Chomsky, a CCR Cooperating Attorney, said, “There is no official in any country that is above the law. It is important that we have a single standard by which people of any country can be called to justice for the violation of human rights. It’s not just for petty dictators who are on the U.S. enemies list.”
The suit against Ya’alon seeks damages and a declaratory judgment under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act for killings and injuries from the shelling. According to the suit, as Head of the IDF Intelligence Branch, Lt. Gen. Ya’alon participated in the decision to shell the UN compound at Qana. He also had command responsibility for the attack. The suit further alleges that the abuses were part of a pattern and practice of systematic human rights violations designed, ordered, implemented and directed with the participation of Lt. Gen. Ya’alon and carried out by military personnel acting under his command and at his direction. Ya’alon is currently a “Distinguished Military Fellow” at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
CCR Attorney Maria LaHood said, “The IDF knew that hundreds of civilians had fled their homes to seek shelter from IDF attacks at the U.N. compound in southern Lebanon. Defendant Ya’alon and the Intelligence Branch he headed then targeted its bombardment directly at the compound. Almost ten years later, the hundreds of victims of the IDF shelling finally have an opportunity to seek justice.”
In April 1996, the IDF launched the military operation codenamed “Grapes of Wrath.” The Northern Command directed the bombing, strafing and shelling of small villages in southern Lebanon intended to force thousands of inhabitants to flee their homes. The complaint alleges that forces under Ya’alon’s command were deliberately and wantonly attacking and killing internally displaced civilians who had taken refuge in a known and clearly-marked U.N. compound and failed to warn the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) compound of impending attacks. Most of the civilians sheltered there were women, children, and elderly people as they were those who were too poor or otherwise unable to get transportation out of the areas of shelling.
Counsel for the Qana suit includes CCR attorneys Maria LaHood, Jennifer Green and Kelly McAnnany, CCR Board Member Abdeen Jabara, CCR Cooperating Counsel Judith Brown Chomsky, Michael Poulshock, Boston University School of Law Professor Susan Akram, and D.C. counsel James Klimaski.