Palestinians sue Biden to stop Gaza genocide

November 18, 2023
woman holding baby
Protesting in Canberra, Australia to demand an end to Israel's genocidal war against the Palestinians. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Palestinians are suing United States President Joe Biden and his secretaries of state and defense to stop them from further aiding and abetting Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

The legal move comes as the Israeli military has stormed al-Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest health facility, after US officials parroted Israel’s claims that Hamas uses it as a commander center, despite a lack of credible evidence.

Meanwhile, UNRWA, the main provider of humanitarian assistance in Gaza, has run out of fuel after fuel transfers were banned by Israel, forcing the UN agency for Palestine refugees to suspend the delivery of life-saving aid.

After more than five weeks of total siege and intensive bombardment that has killed at least 11,000 people, Palestinians in Gaza not yet killed by US-sourced weapons will increasingly die from hunger, thirst and disease.

The complaint was filed in a federal court on Monday by the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based civil liberties group, on behalf of the Palestinian human rights groups Defense for Children International-Palestine and Al-Haq and several Palestinians who are inside Gaza or are US citizens with family there.

Among the plaintiffs is The Electronic Intifada contributor Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the founders of Gaza’s Great March of Return protests, whose nearly 13-year-old son Abdullah was killed in an Israeli airstrike on October 24.

“All have had multiple family members killed, subjected to the closure of Gaza, and displaced,” according to the Center for Constitutional Rights.

During a press briefing on November 14, Katherine Gallagher, an attorney with the civil liberties group, said that the lawsuit brings forward two claims: “a claim of their failure in the duty to prevent genocide, and complicity in genocide.”

The crime of genocide “means to destroy, in whole or in part, a group because of its identity,” Gallagher said. “In this case, we are setting forth the case of genocide against the Palestinian population in Gaza.”

The complaint lays out “the very clear, specific intent announced and admitted by Israeli officials to destroy in whole or in part the Palestinian population in Gaza,” she added.

“It is very rare in cases of genocide that at the front end of an unfolding genocide, we have such clear evidence of specific intent,” Gallagher said.

“And that is part of why the duty to prevent is something that is so important to enforce in this case. We should not have to wait until the death counts rise” and people start dying from starvation, dehydration and lack of medical care “before people act.”

The 1948 Genocide Convention — to which the US, Israel and Palestine have all acceded — puts an affirmative duty on states with influence to “take all measures that they can from the moment they know that there is a serious risk of genocide” to prevent it,” Gallagher added.

Israeli leaders declare genocidal intent

Israeli leaders made statements demonstrating genocidal intent as soon as its military offensive in Gaza began after an attack led by Hamas on October 7 left some 1200 people dead, according to the Israeli government.

That day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Palestinians in Gaza to “get out now”. Two days later, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, ordered “a complete siege on the Gaza Strip”, preventing the transfer of electricity, food and fuel to the territory, which had already been under a severe blockade for 16 years.

The Israeli general who heads the COGAT military unit meanwhile said that “human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water [in Gaza], there will only be destruction.”

“You wanted hell, you will get hell,” he added.

The Israeli military spokesperson announced on October 10 that the army was dropping “hundreds of tons of bombs”, adding that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy”.

The complaint provides a timeline of further such statements by Israeli leaders matched by military action.

Netanyahu invoked the biblical story of Amalek on October 29, in which God commands the killing of the Amalekite people and their animals – “divinely mandated genocide”, according to one scholar quoted in the lawsuit.

By that day, the Gaza death toll had reached 8000 people. In the following days, Israel repeatedly bombed Jabaliya refugee camp, killing some 200 Palestinians, with nearly 800 others injured and 120 people reported missing under the rubble.

The filing puts the current genocide into the context of Israel’s “historical policy and practice of seizure of Palestinian land and dispossession of the Palestinian people”.

The complaint also observes that “Israel’s sustained military hostilities and assaults against Palestinians, even when alleged to be ‘self-defense,’ breach fundamental principles of international law”.

As the occupying power, Israel cannot apply Article 51 of the UN charter pertaining to the use of self-defense by states, “when the threat originates from a territory over which Israel exercises control”.

US leaders enable genocide

Biden and secretaries Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin III “have not only been failing to uphold the country’s obligation to prevent a genocide”, according to the lawsuit, “but have enabled the conditions for its development by providing unconditional military and diplomatic support – disavowing any constraint or ‘red lines’ on Israel’s military campaign”.

This unconditional support is despite “numerous Israeli government statements reflecting a genocidal intent”, according to the complaint. “Defendants have refused to even initiate internal processes to assess whether there is a genocide unfolding in Gaza, or to monitor how US weapons are used there.”

Meanwhile, the US leaders have refused to call for a ceasefire and vetoed UN resolutions calling for “humanitarian pauses” in Israel’s attacks, all while influencing and “guiding” Israeli military strategy.

The complaint states that “unlawful direct attacks against civilians” in southern Israel on October 7, and the taking of civilian and military captives still held in Gaza, cannot justify the “lethal collective punishment and destruction against the Palestinian population”.

The lawsuit adds that statements by Israeli leaders blur the distinction between civilians and armed groups, reflecting “the kind of dehumanizing and totalizing rhetoric that genocide scholars and historians … recognize typically precede, accompany and fuel genocidal acts”.

Suit asks court to bar US aid to Israel

The suit calls for the defendants to “take all measures within their power to exert influence over Israel to end its bombing of the Palestinian people of Gaza” and to lift the siege and prevent the forcible transfer and expulsion of Palestinians in the territory.

The plaintiffs also ask the court to “order an end to US military and diplomatic support to Israel”, the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a press release on November 13.

The civil liberties group filed a preliminary injunction on November 14, asking the court to put in place such an order.

During a press briefing that same day, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Katherine Gallagher said that the organization hoped the lawsuit would give US officials “serious pause, and ultimately stops” their complicity in genocide.

She said that the lawsuit was shared with the International Criminal Court, which has an open investigation in Palestine, but “there is a responsibility for action to be taken here in the United States, including through our courts”.

Monadel Herzallah, a prominent Palestinian organiser in the US and one of the plaintiffs in the case, stressed the importance of continuing political mobilisation as the legal efforts move forward, saying that the two approaches are complementary.

He said that his family in Gaza were “very hopeful and pleased that we’re finally pointing the finger at the source of the problem”. Herzallah added that the lawsuit has been welcomed also by movement partners on social media.

Basim Elkarra, another plaintiff who is bereaved of more than 60 family members killed in Israeli attacks, encouraged “anything we can do to participate in and support to save lives … this moment of solidarity will always be remembered”.

[Reprinted from Electronic Intifada.]

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