WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit ruled that the former head of Israeli army intelligence is immune from a lawsuit filed by relatives of Lebanese civilians who died when a United Nations compound was shelled by the Israeli military in the mid-1990s.
Defendant Gen. Moshe Ya’alon served as head of army intelligence from 1995 to 1998. In April 1996 the Israeli Defense Forces launched “Operation Grapes of Wrath” in southern Lebanon, hoping to exert pressure on the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah guerrilla forces operating in southern Lebanon. The IDF broadcast radio warnings to Lebanese civilians to evacuate, otherwise they would be considered a Hezbollah supporter. Several hundred civilians, including the plaintiffs’ relatives, chose to stay in southern Lebanon and relocate to a UN compound in Qana. The Israeli army then shelled Qana, killing more than 100 civilians in the compound and injuring many more.
Plaintiffs claimed that Gen. Moshe Ya’alon, as head of intelligence, “had command responsibility for the attack” and knew that civilians were in the compound. He allegedly “failed to take appropriate and necessary measures to prevent troops” from shelling civilians.
Victims’ families brought suit under the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Torture Victim Protection Act, alleging that the shelling constituted “war crimes, extrajudicial killing, crimes against humanity, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment perpetrated by General Ya’alon.”
The appeals court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of jurisdiction, citing the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976. The Act protected Ya’alon because he had been acting in his official capacity, the court ruled.