Monday, December 10, 2007

Israeli general is sued for killing 100 Lebanese civilians at Qana:

Oral arguments, in this lawsuit, were made today, December 10, 2007:

Belhas v. Ya’alon
On the CCR Web site, at:


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.

On January 12, 2007, CCR filed Plaintiffs’ notice of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The appeal is fully briefed and oral argument will be heard on December 10, 2007, before Judges David Sentelle, Karen Henderson and Stephen Williams.


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.


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 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.

Attached Files

District Court Proceedings

Belhas_Complaint _11.05
Belhas_Dismiss Points Authorities_02.06
Belhas_Plaintiffs' Opposition to Motion to Dismiss_05.06
Belhas_Aceves Affidavit_05.06
Belhas_Ya'alon Reply_06.06
Belhas_Dismissal Opinion_12.06


Belhas_Appeal Brief_08.07
Belhas_CJA Amicus_08.07
Belhas_Appellee Brief_10.07
Belhas_Reply Brief_11.07
Background Information on Belhas


Excerpts from Background Information on Belhas --

Belhas, et al. v. Moshe Ya’alon


On November 4, 2005, CCR brought a class action lawsuit against retired Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon for his role in the 1996 shelling of a United Nations (UN) compound in Qana, Lebanon. Plaintiffs brought their claims under theories of direct responsibility, aiding and abetting liability and command responsibility.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and served on the
defendant in Washington D.C. on December 15, 2005.


In 1978, Israel invaded southern Lebanon, occupying Lebanese territory up to the Litani River. In Resolution 425, the UN Security Council called upon Israel to withdraw its forces from all Lebanese territory. At the same time, the Security Council established the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), in part to oversee the withdraw of Israel from Lebanon.
In June 1982, however, Israel undertook a full-scale invasion of Lebanon, reaching Muslim West Beirut in an attempt to drive out the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO had established its headquarters in Beirut in 1970; tens of thousands of Palestinians had fled to Lebanon after the establishment of Israel in 1948, and following the 1967 and 1973 wars.

In the early 1990s, Lebanon began to rebuild after 15 years of civil war. Israel, however, and the Israeli-supported Southern Lebanon Army (SLA), continued to occupy southern Lebanon, while Syria maintained a presence in Lebanon as well. Ongoing low-level conflict between Hezbollah, which formed after the 1982 invasion and opposed the Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon, and the IDF and the SLA continued, culminating in the 1996 military operation by Israel, code-named Operation “Grapes of Wrath.”


In 1978, the United Nations had established a compound in Qana in southern Lebanon, staffed by Fijian peacekeepers. The UNIFIL compound in Qana, was north of the demarcation line of Israel’s zone of occupation. When the IDF launched Operation “Grapes of Wrath” in April 1996, the IDF Northern Command directed the bombing, strafing and shelling of small villages in southern Lebanon. The attacks, intended to exert pressure on the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah, forced approximately 400,000 people to flee their homes. Beginning April 11, 1996, the IDF began intensive bombing of Beirut and the Bekaa valley.

On April 12, 1996, through the SLA radio station Voice of the South, the IDF issued warnings to
Lebanese civilians to evacuate many towns and villages in the south of Lebanon. The IDF also stated that civilians who remained in their villages or towns would be considered connected with Hezbollah.

By April 18, 1996, over 800 Lebanese civilians, including the Plaintiffs, had sought refuge from the IDF bombings in the UNIFIL compound in Qana. Plaintiffs and other civilians in the compound were internally displaced persons who fled their homes in the areas of Tyre, Qana, and the Al-Battam mountains as a result of “Grapes of Wrath.” Most of the civilians sheltered there were women, children, and elderly people who were too poor or otherwise unable to get transportation out of the areas of shelling.

Just after 2:00 pm local time, the headquarters of the compound of the Fijian battalion of UNIFIL came under artillery fire by the IDF. No precautions to prevent civilian casualties from the shelling at Qana were taken. No warning to the UNIFIL base that it was about to come under attack was issued. Thirteen high explosive shells directly hit the compound or detonated over the compound, eight of which were proximity fuse shells that detonate explosives above ground when closest to their targets, rather than exploding upon impact. As such, they inflict death or bodily injury rather than material destruction.

Over one hundred civilians were killed in the deliberate attack, almost half of whom were children, and many more were wounded, including UN personnel. At the time of the shelling, Israel had two helicopters and a remotely piloted vehicle with real-time data link capability flying over Qana. The UN subsequently launched an investigation and denounced the IDF attack as violating the rules of international humanitarian law and concluded that it was “unlikely” that the shelling was the result of gross technical or procedural errors. [1]

During the 2006 summer war, history tragically repeated itself. On July 30, 2006, at least 28 Lebanese civilians, including many women and children, were killed when Israel bombed a residential building in the village of Qana. Israel claimed that Hezbollah was using a near-by building to launch attacks. Human rights groups have called for an independent investigation into the attack.


The case against Israeli General Moshe Ya’alon was brought by seven Lebanese families on behalf of surviving members and those members who were injured or killed on April 18, 1996 in Qana.

The Belhas family: Plaintiff Saadallah Ali Belhas's wife Zeineb, and nine of his fourteen children were killed in the attack on the U.N. compound: Ghaleb, Fayyad, Nayla, Fatimeh, Zahra, Amal, Mohamed, Ibrahim and Kadijah. In total, Saadallah Ali Belhas lost 32 members of his extended family in the attack.

Now aged 66, Saadallah Ali Belhas, who also lost his right eye in the attack, recently said: “My sons tried to marry me off again, but I refused. No one can replace my wife, my life partner.” [2]

His son, Ali Saadallah Belhas, also lost his wife and three young children: Ali witnessed his infant son being decapitated and shrapnel penetrate his wife’s body.

The Hammoud family: Plaintiff Ibrahim Khalil Hammoud, a resident of Qana, sued on his own behalf for shrapnel injuries to his back and right leg he suffered on April 18, 1996. He remains partially disabled, and suffers ongoing pain.

The al Haja Family: Plaintiff Raimon Nasseeb al Haja is a resident of Qana. He sues on his own behalf for disabling injuries he suffered April 18, 1996, and on behalf of his mother Georgette Michael al Haja, who was killed in the attack.

The Deeb family: Plaintiff Hamidah Sharif Deeb, now age 37, lives in Rishqinayeh, Al Dibsheh, District of Tyre, Lebanon. She sues on her own behalf for disabling injuries she suffered on April 18, 1996, and on behalf of her sister, Sakeena Deeb, who was killed in the attack. Her brother’s children also died during the attack. Hamidah Sharif Deeb’s left arm and right leg were severed as a result of the attack, and she now uses artificial limbs.

The Ismail family: Plaintiff Ali Mohammed Ismail sues on his own behalf for injuries suffered on April 18, 1996, and on behalf of his sons, Mohammed Hassan Ismail and Hasan Ismail, his daughter, Mariam Ismail, and his wife Banin Ismail, who were killed in the attack.

The Khalil family: Plaintiff Hala Yassim Khali is from the Batoliyeh, District of Tyre, Lebanon. She and thirty-seven of her family members sought refuge in the UNIFIL compound when houses in their village were hit. She sues on her own behalf for disabling injuries she suffered on April 18, 1996, and on behalf of her brothers Ali Khalil and Hussam Khalil who were killed in the attack.

Israeli General MOSHE YA’ALON

Moshe Ya’alon was a Major General and head of the Intelligence Branch of the IDF in April 1996, when he participated in the decision to shell the UN compound in Qana during the course of Operation “Grapes of Wrath.” The Intelligence Branch of the IDF was responsible for cross border operations, including the attack on Qana.

The complaint alleges that forces under Ya’alon’s command failed to warn the UNIFIL compound of impending attacks and deliberately and wantonly attacked and killed internally displaced civilians who had taken refuge in a known and clearly-marked U.N. compound. The IDF continued to shell the compound even after it was specifically notified by UNIFIL that it was shelling a UN position in which civilians were taking shelter.

A week after the attack, Israeli General Ya’alon stated that “[t]he fact that civilians are evacuated from the villages into UN facilities was known to us from the second day of the operation. In the intelligence wing there was no discussion of whether there were two or six hundred civilians in Qana….The relevant question is, was it correct to open fire in such circumstances?” [3]

A 37-year veteran of the IDF, Ya’alon retired in June 2005 as the IDF's Chief of Staff. He then took up a position at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy as a “Distinguished Military Fellow,” which ended in 2006. [3]


[2] Daily Star, “Qana survivors confront ghosts of the past daily,” April 18, 2006, pg. 2

[3] Derek Brown, "Gunners’ Cover is Blown", The Guardian (London), May 11, 1996.