Press Release

Press Briefing on Capitol Hill

For Immediate Release  
April 27, 2006   
Noura Erakat, 510.847.4239 (cell) , 202.332.0994 (office) 
 Judith Chomsky, 215.782.8367                                              

10 years later, survivors of Qana massacre still seeking justice: Press briefing on Capitol Hill features family members of Qana victims and attorney litigating class action law suit on victims’ behalf. 

Washington, D.C. April 26, 2005—A cooperating attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Judith Brown Chomsky, discussed the class action lawsuit against Moshe Ya’alon, former Head of the Intelligence Branch and former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), at a press briefing held on Tuesday April 25th, “Commemorating Qana and Still Seeking Justice 10 years later.” The briefing, organized by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the Council for the National Interest, sought to draw attention to current efforts to hold Israel accountable for its 1996 shelling of a UN Compound in Southern Lebanon that killed 106 civilians and wounded hundreds of others.

The class action law suit is among the first efforts to hold a former Israeli military officer accountable for war crimes in U.S. federal courts. The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) served Ya’alon with process papers in December 2005. The complaint was filed in The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The charges against Ya’alon include war crimes, extrajudicial killing, crimes against humanity, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Chomsky explained that the case is legal and not political. The case, brought forth pursuant to the Alien Torts Claims Act, a 1789 U.S. statute, alleges that Ya’alon breached several international customary laws including the prohibition on the targeting of civilians in times of war. Chomsky says that this will be among the first cases litigated against an Israeli officer in U.S. federal courts. She 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 briefing also featured Katia Bitar, a 16-year old high school student from Dearborn, Michigan whose brothers, Aboudi (9) and Hadi (7) were killed in the 1996 shelling. At the time of the shelling, Aboudi and Hadi were U.S. residents visiting their ailing grandmother in Qana, Lebanon. Bitar was only six years old at the time and recounted that, “death was new to me then but watching my parents go through so much pain made me cry. As the years passed i remember asking my parents when my brothers are going to visit and my dad would tell me that they weren’t coming back…”

Bitar spoke on behalf of her father, Haidar Bitar who was scheduled to speak but could not attend. He was out of the country trying to reach his mother in Lebanon who is dying from bone cancer. She developed the cancer after her left arm was blown off during the shelling. Haidar has been actively pursuing justice on behalf of his sons and all those killed during the 1996 shelling. In addition to testifying before the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland and helping to organize commemorative rallies every year since 1996, most recently, Haidair is a member of the class action law suit filed on behalf of the Qana survivors against Moshe Ya’alon.

Congressman Conyers (D-14th, MI), who represents approximately 45 households with family members killed in Qana, submitted a statement on behalf of his constituents into the Congressional Record. His Legislative Director, Cynthia Martin, read a statement on his behalf.