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Israel-Palestine war: Palestinians sue Biden for failing to prevent 'unfolding genocide' in Gaza

A group of Palestinians and human rights organisations have filed a lawsuit to force Washington to stop its support of Israel's assault on Gaza
US President Joe Biden meets with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo in the Oval Office of the White House on 13 November 2023 in Washington.
US President Joe Biden meets with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, on 13 November 2023 (AP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

Palestinians living in the United States and the occupied Palestinian territories filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Monday, seeking to halt further diplomatic and military support to Israel.

The lawsuit accuses Washington of failing to "prevent an unfolding genocide" against the Palestinian people amid Israel's latest assault on Gaza.

"This unfolding genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza has so far been made possible because of the unconditional support given by … President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, constituting a breach of US responsibilities under customary international law, as codified in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," the lawsuit read.

Legal experts, UN officials and more than 800 scholars have warned that Israel is potentially committing genocide against Palestinians.

When it comes to the issue of genocide, many experts refer to the definition outlined in Article II of the UN's Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

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This definition, widely accepted by more than 130 countries including the US, Germany, France, and the UK, states that genocide means acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".

The lawsuit also includes declarations from leading genocide experts who have given the same warning.

"I conclude that there is a serious risk of genocide committed against the Palestinian population of Gaza and that the United States of America is in breach of its obligation … to use its position of influence with the Government of Israel and to take the best measures within its power to prevent the crime taking place," William Schabas, a leading legal expert on genocide, said in a statement.

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The legal filing was submitted in the District Court for Northern California and was filed against US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.

Given that the lawsuit involves an accusation of the US violating an international treaty - in this case, the Genocide Convention - the district court holds jurisdiction over the matter.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the law firm, Van Der Hout, LLP, on behalf of Palestinians as well as the Palestinian human rights organisations, Al-Haq and Defense for Children International.

"For the last five weeks, President Biden and Secretaries Blinken and Austin have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with an Israeli government that has made clear its intention to destroy the Palestinian population in Gaza," said Katherine Gallagher, a senior attorney at CCR and one of the lawyers who brought the case forward.

"The United States has a clear and binding obligation to prevent, not further, genocide. They have failed in meeting their legal and moral duty to use their considerable power to end this horror. They must do so."

The Pentagon said it does not comment on pending litigation, and the White House and State Department did not immediately respond to Middle East Eye’s request for comment.

'The US has to stop this'

The lawsuit is the latest legal battle launched in the US after war broke out in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories on 7 October, when Hamas and armed Palestinian groups launched an attack on Israel that killed 1,200 Israelis, according to the latest tally.

Meanwhile, Israel has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians in its aerial bombing campaign and ground assault, with at least 70 percent of the fatalities women and children.

Israeli forces have targeted hospitals, residential neighbourhoods, ambulances, mosques, and other civilian infrastructure. Entire neighbourhoods in the besieged enclave have been completely levelled as Israel's military advances in northern Gaza.

'I have done everything in my power ... Now I am asking the courts to end this ongoing genocide'

- Mohammad Herzallah

"I've lost five relatives, treated too many children who are the sole survivors of their families, received the bodies of my fellow medical students and their families, and seen the hospital turn into a shelter for tens of thousands of people as we all run out of fuel, electricity, food, and water," said Dr Omar al-Najjar, a 24-year-old intern physician at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis and a plaintiff in the case.

"The US has to stop this genocide. Everyone in the world has to stop this.”

For some of the Palestinian plaintiffs, the lawsuit serves almost as a last-ditch effort to stop the mass killing of people in Gaza. For the past several weeks, there has been a massive mobilisation of pro-Palestinian protests all across the world, including in western capitals.

There is also growing dissent inside the Biden administration over the US approach to supporting Israel in its war in Gaza. So far, one Biden administration official, who was in charge of weapons transfers, has resigned.

Still, Biden has not budged in his full support of Israel's actions. The US has sent through an additional $14bn in military support to Israel, in addition to the already yearly $4bn the US provides to Israel. It has also approved the $320m sale of smart-guided bombs to Israel.

CCR said in a press release announcing the lawsuit that sending weapons to a party committing genocide is "a form of complicity", and the US doesn't "need not share the recipients’ genocidal intent".

“We have lost so many people, but there are still many more who are living, and we owe it to them to do everything possible to stop this genocide,” said Mohammad Herzallah, one of the plaintiffs who has family in Gaza.

“I have done everything in my power: I have participated in protests, sit-ins, wrote letters to my representatives, civil disobedience. Now I am asking the courts to end this ongoing genocide.”

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