Qana, Ten Years Later

On April 18, 1996, Israeli Armed Forces shelled a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Compound in Qana, Lebanon killing 106 civilians and wounding hundreds of others. The shelling marked one of the bloodiest massacres in Lebanon’s modern history. Israeli and American pressures shelved a UN investigation, but legal actions are now being taken in an effort to redress this injustice.

The US Campaign is committed to promoting US policies that uphold international law and human rights. The lawsuit provides an opportunity to educate and mobilize US citizens around the way in which US policy shields Israel from being held accountable for its human rights violations. 

Lawsuit: On November 4, 2005, nearly 10 years after the shelling of the Qana compound, the Center for Constitutional Rights in cooperation with several U.S.-based human rights attorneys, filed a class action lawsuit against Moshe Ya’alon, a retired Israeli general who served as Head of Israeli Army Intelligence during the shelling.[1] The claims against Ya’alon include war crimes, extrajudicial killing, crimes against humanity, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The lawsuit is brought pursuant to the Alien Tort Statute which permits non-US citizens for violations of customary international law in U.S. federal courts, and the Torture Victim Protection Act, which provides for damages for extrajudicial killing under color of foreign law. To read the complaint, click here.

“Operation Grapes of Wrath”: Qana is a village located southeast of the city of Tyre in Southern Lebanon. In April 1996, the Israeli Army launched the military operation, “Grapes of Wrath,” in order to exert pressure on the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbollah, which was resisting Israel’s occupation of Southern Lebanon. Israel was firing approximately 3,000 shells a day and launching roughly 200 missile raids every 24 hours into Lebanese territory.[2] In contrast, Hizbollah had fired 120 Katyusha rockets over the Lebanese-Israeli border into Israel by April 16, 1996.

Israel began its operation on April 11, 1996 with an intensive aerial bombing of Beirut and the Bekaa valley.[3]In reaction to a warning issued by the Israeli Army, Lebanese civilians evacuated their towns and villages in the South of Lebanon. Those civilians who could not leave the conflict area due to age, disability, or lack of money took refuge in the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) compounds.[4] By April 16, 2006, between 5,000 and 9,000 civilians had taken shelter in UNIFIL bases throughout the area, with nearly 800 civilians housed in the UNIFIL compound in Qana.[5]

The Shelling: On April 18, 1996 at approximately 2 PM, Israel began shelling the UN Compound in Qana. The shelling lasted 17 minutes, and killed 106 Lebanese civilians almost half of whom were children, injured hundreds of civilians, and caused severe destruction in the area.[6]

Saadallah Belhas, who lost 31 members of his family, recounts: 

There was a terrible explosion, and the first thing I felt was hot, wet liquid all over the right side of my face…I couldn’t see out of my right eye. There was a great flash of fire and I felt myself burning. I was deaf. There were more shells—there was no space between the sound of the explosions. I was still conscious and I felt blood, so much blood running down my face. I pushed the blood away with my hand and wiped my hand on the mattress. Everyone was shrieking and crying.[7]

Fawzieh Saad, another survivor and a 50-year old mother at the time, remembers:

A man was lying in two pieces. There was a woman who was pregnant and I could see the arm and leg of her unborn baby poking out of her stomach. There was a man who had shrapnel in his head. He was not dead but you could see a piece of metal in his neck, like he’d had his throat cut. He told his daughter to come to help and lift him up. And I heard her say: “Wait a minute, I’m trying to put my brother together—he’s in two pieces.” There was another brother holding a child in his arms. The child had no head. The brother was dead too.[8]

UN Investigation: ThenUN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, immediately called for an investigation of the shelling and sent his military adviser, Major-General Franklin van Kappen, on a mission to Israel and Lebanon to examine the circumstances of the tragic events. Van Kappen ultimately found that “while the possibility cannot be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that the shelling of the United Nations compound was the result of gross technical and/or procedural errors.”[9]

Israelclaims that the shelling the U.N. compound was a mistake.[10]Israeli officials also claim that they were targeting Hizbollah forces which had fired 6 Katyusha rockets from two separate targets—one 200 meters southwest of the compound and the other, 350 meters southeast of the compound. In its targeting of the Hizbollah forces, Israel claimed that “regrettably, a few rounds had overshot and hit the United Nations Compound.”[11] However, according to Van Kappen’s findings, “the pattern of impacts is inconsistent with a normal overshooting of the declared target by a few rounds.”[12] Moreover, the report found that “the distribution of point impact detonations and air bursts makes it improbable that impact fuses and proximity fuses were employed in random order, as stated by Israeli forces.”[13]

The strongest evidence refuting Israel’s claim that shelling the UN compound was a mistake is video footage revealing that a remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) hovered above the compound before, during, and after the shelling.[14] The RPV, equipped with real-time data link capability, enabled the Israeli forces to observe the UN compound as well as the presence of approximately 800 civilians taking shelter there.[15]

Van Kappen’s report was never released in its entirety. The report, as well as the evidence upon which it was based, were never made public due to intense political pressure from the U.S. and Israel.[16] A final UN report on the Qana Massacre has yet to be published.[17]

What you can do to support the fight for justice for the survivors of Qana: Grassroots efforts are needed to win justice for the survivors of the Qana massacre and to ensure that Israel is held accountable for its human rights atrocities.Begin this effort by participating in a National Day of Action on April 18, 2006. For more information about ways to get involved in the campaign to hold Israel accountable, please click here.

[1] Belhas et al. v. Ya’alon, US District Court, District of Columbia: 2005.

[2] Fisk, Robert, ­“The Massacre,” Pity the Nation. Nation Books: New York, 2002.673.

[3] Belhas et al. v. Ya’alon at Paragraph 29.

[4] Belhas v. Ya’alon. Paragraph 30.

[5] Belhas v. Ya’alon. Paragraph 31, 47.

[6] Major-General Franklin van Kappen, Report dated 1 May 1996 of the Secretary-General’s Military Adviser concerning the shelling of the United Nations compound at Qana on 18 April 1996. S/1996/337: 3; Belhas v. Ya’alon, US District Court, District of Columbia: 2005. Paragraph 1.

[7] Fisk, Robert at 677.

[8] Fisk, Robert at 678.

[9] Van Kappen Report atdated 4.

[10] Van Kappen at 10.

[11] Van Kappen Reportat 7.


[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Belhas v. Ya’alon at Paragraph 45.

[16] UN Economic and Social Council, Question of the Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine, E/CN.4/2004/NGO/227, 11 March 2004. Paragraph 10.

[17] Id.