A Human Rights Group Sues a Right Wing Thinktanker

The apparently accidental killing by Israeli artillery of a Palestinian family on a Gaza beach yesterday has proved calamitous, resulting in the end of Hamas’s truce with Israel.

The incident in some ways parallels another border event of ten years ago that is now in the American courts, in which a humans-right group has sued a fellow at a leading rightwing Washington thinktank, over the deaths of 100 civilian neighbors of Israel ten years ago.

In 1996 Israel was fighting skirmishes on its northern Lebanese border with Hizbullah. The terrorist organization was coming in and out of Israel, killing Israelis, then seeking refuge in Lebanese border towns. Israel launched a series of raids on these villages that it called the “Grapes of Wrath.” It warned Lebanese villagers to leave their homes, or they would be considered Hizbullah. Hundreds of civilians gathered in a U.N. compound a few miles from the Israeli border, and on the afternoon of April 18, 1996, Israeli forces shelled the compound, killing 100 civilians. The Israelis stated then that they had accidentally missed their intended target, Hizbullah fighters, by about 200 yards. Almost all the victims of the miss were children, women, and the elderly.

Last year Moshe Yaalon, the general who had headed Israeli intelligence at the time of the raids, retired as Army chief of staff in Israel and became a military fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a pro-Israel thinktank. Yaalon is a rightwinger. He` has, for instance, defended the occupation and attacked the idea of Israel returning to its 1967 borders, saying that those borders are indefensible (the same argument made by Michael Rubin and Richard Perle across town at American Enterprise Institute).

In December last year, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York sued and served papers against Ya’alon. The suit was on behalf of several victims of the Lebanese attack, including a man who lost his wife and nine children in the shelling. Yaalon was charged with international war crimes under a torture victims’ protection law and another international-tort law dating to the 18th century.

CCR’s 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.”

Yaalon has responded that the killings were accidental, and part of a state-sanctioned war against terrorists. CCR has said accidents don’t excuse. The Israelis were “deliberately using disproportionate force in an area which the Defendant knew was heavily populated with civilians.”

I have never been to Israel, so I avoid scrutinizing events in battles there. My general feeling, though, is the whole thing is a violent mess, and it’s been going on forever. Neither side is virtuous, it’s “a cycle of violence”—the words Ari Fleisher says he made a point never to use when he was spokesman for George Bush. By backing Israel in all its actions, the United States has only made things worse, not better. So I’m hoping the Yaalon case goes to trial, and this callous accident is exposed in our courts, and more pressure applied against the Israel lobby.

At the time of these kilings, a Haaretz columnist, Arieh Shavit, assailed Israel for its self-asserted impunity to international opinion. “With the White House in our hands, the Senate in our hands, the New York Times in our hands, the lives of others do not count in the same way as our own.”

A Human Rights Group Sues a Right Wing Thinktanker