United States: Legal actions afoot over US-backed Israeli genocide in Gaza

November 24, 2023
The Center for Constitutional Rights’ (CCR) complaint alleges that Israel’s actions, including “mass killings”, the targeting of civilian infrastructure and forced expulsions, amount to genocide.

A constitutional rights group in the United States is suing President Joe Biden for “failure to prevent genocide” in Gaza. The legal complaint is on behalf of Palestinian groups and individuals charging Israel’s actions amount to genocide.

The New York civil liberties group is suing Biden, and two other top government officials, for failing in his duty under international and US laws to prevent Israel committing genocide in Gaza.

The Center for Constitutional Rights’ (CCR) complaint alleges that Israel’s actions, including “mass killings”, the targeting of civilian infrastructure and forced expulsions, amount to genocide.

The 1948 international convention against genocide, to which the US is a signatory, requires countries to use their power and influence to stop the killing.

US 'complicit' in genocide

“As Israel’s closest ally and strongest supporter, being its biggest provider of military assistance by a large margin and with Israel being the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II, the United States has the means available to have a deterrent effect on Israeli officials now pursuing genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza,” the complaint argues.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in California, asks the court to bar the US from providing weapons, money and diplomatic support to Israel.

It also seeks a declaration that the president, the secretary of state Antony Blinken and the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, are required “to take all measures within their power to prevent Israel’s commission of genocidal acts against the Palestinian people of Gaza”. These include pressing Israel to end the bombing of Gaza, to lift its siege of the territory and to prevent the forcible expulsion of Palestinians.

The CCR, which won a landmark case in the US Supreme Court in 2004 establishing the rights of prisoners held by the US military at the Guantanamo Bay prison, said that the Hamas cross-border attack on October 7 does not provide a legal justification for the scale of Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza, which has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians, including more than 6600 children, and displaced 1.5 million people.

Katherine Gallagher, CCR senior attorney and one of the lawyers who brought the case, told Democracy Now! on November 16 that the case against Biden, Blinken and Austin rests on two claims: “One is that they have absolutely and completely failed in their duty under international law and US law to take all measures possible to prevent the unfolding genocide against the Palestinian population in Gaza … and the second claim is that [the US is] actually complicit in genocide.”

Genocide is defined as “the specific intent to destroy a group, a national or ethnic group, in whole or in part,” said Gallagher, and “is such a serious crime that states are obligated to take all measures within their control, all measures possible … to stop that”.

Gallagher said that the US had failed to do so, despite its “considerable influence over Israel in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars in military aid that it’s sent over the decades and billions in the past year”.

“Instead of using that influence to stop the killing, to stop the imposition of a total siege, denying all basic necessities to 2.2 million people in the enclosed space of Gaza,” said Gallagher, the US “have rushed weapons” to Israel and given it “unconditional political support”.

Moreso, said Gallagher, the US has “blocked all measures at the international level” against Israel’s assault.

In regard to US complicity, the CCR is “lay[ing] out the case that Israel is actually committing genocide at this moment … because of the very clear statements of intent by [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, by his minister of defense and other senior Israeli officials...

“They have been clear that they see … the people, the children of Gaza, as less than human, describing the population as ‘monsters, or ‘human animals’.

“We’ve [seen and] heard what has happened to the healthcare and medical facilities: bombed and invaded.”

The scale of civilian deaths, systemic collective punishment and “deprivation of the most basic necessities of life” in Gaza are identified by the CCR as genocidal.

The CCR says senior Israeli officers stated their “intention to destroy Palestinian life in Gaza”. Israeli Major General Ghassan Alian said: “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.”

New ICC investigation

In addition to the CCR’s suit, according to Al Jazeera, “A group of lawyers representing Palestinian victims of Israeli attacks on Gaza have filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC), arguing that Israel’s actions amount to the crime of genocide.”

French lawyer Gilles Devers, submitted the complaint on behalf of victims to the ICC prosecutor in The Hague.

The suit could result in arrest warrants being issued against Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials.

With mounting allegations of serious war crimes being committed in Gaza, Devers told Al Jazeera that governments that did not wish to be found complicit should refrain from backing Israel.

“Governments must choose which camp they are on if they support human rights or genocide. They cannot give speeches about international law and human rights and then accept Israel’s attack without doing nothing,” he said.

Israel does not recognise the ICC, but Devers said that did not render the court ineffective.

In 2021, the ICC ruled that it has authority over grave crimes committed in occupied Palestinian territories, including potential war crimes committed by any party on the ground.

On November 9, three Palestinian human rights groups urged the ICC to investigate Israel for “apartheid” as well as “genocide” and issue arrest warrants for Israeli leaders.

#JusticeForGaza, another initiative, aims to bring together international civil society, political leaders and representatives to petition the ICC over Israel’s war on Gaza. The leader of Spain’s leftist Podemos party, Ione Belarra, and British left-wing politician Jeremy Corbyn, are among more than 80 signatories to that petition.

“We have sufficient proof for a mandate of arrest against Mr. Netanyahu,” Devers said. “If the ICC does nothing, then it’s the end of the ICC.”

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