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War on Gaza: US court to hear lawsuit accusing Biden of failing to stop Gaza genocide

The hearing on Friday coinciding with the expected decision on South Africa's genocide case against Israel is being viewed by Palestinians as 'huge victory'
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators listen to speakers during the "March on Washington for Gaza" in Washington on 13 January 2024.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators listen to speakers during the "March on Washington for Gaza" in Washington DC, on 13 January 2024 (Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

On Friday, a federal court in Oakland, California, will hold a hearing for a case in which a group of Palestinians inside and outside the US are accusing the Biden administration of failing to prevent an unfolding genocide in Gaza at the hands of Israel's military.

The lawsuit was originally filed by many of the plaintiffs as a last-ditch attempt to stop the deaths of their family members in Gaza.

In the months since the first filing, the number of plaintiffs' family members either killed or facing Israeli siege has risen. But now, despite multiple attempts by the Biden administration to dismiss the case, the court has allowed for a live hearing.

With the plaintiffs being given a chance to publicly argue their case, the group of Palestinians has received a boost in morale and hope they can achieve some semblance of justice for themselves and their families in Gaza.

"It signifies that you cannot dismiss genocide - or complicity in genocide - so easily. We consider this a huge victory and a sign that our efforts are making a difference," Laila el-Haddad, a Palestinian American and plaintiff in the case, told Middle East Eye.

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From The Hague to Oakland

For some of the Palestinian plaintiffs in the US lawsuit, the case was a final attempt to put a stop to Israel's carnage in Gaza. However, in addition to the case continuing in California, the legal battle to label Israel's military campaign in Gaza a genocide has grown.

In December, South Africa submitted its case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the country of genocide in Gaza.

Some of the Palestinian plaintiffs in the Oakland case were at The Hague the week during the ICJ hearings, showing support for the case and highlighting its interconnectedness with their legal battle inside the US - the largest supporter of Israel and its military.

'It signifies that you cannot dismiss genocide - or complicity in genocide - so easily'

- Laila el-Haddad

The link between the two cases will be on display again on Friday, as the ICJ is expected to publish a decision on South Africa's case and the California court will hold its first hearing on the lawsuit accusing Biden of complicity in Israel's actions in Gaza.

"While the world watches the decimation of Gaza in horror, from The Hague to California, the courts have a duty to uphold the law and put a stop to genocide," the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement given to Middle East Eye.

The charges of genocide have also resonated within the United States and have impacted US public opinion.

A new poll released this week found that one in three Americans believes Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. For Biden voters, that number is one in two people.

'Unfolding genocide'

The US case originated a month before South Africa took Israel to The Hague. On 13 November, the group of Palestinians filed the lawsuit against the Biden administration with help from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the law firm, Van Der Hout, LLP.

The filing accuses the administration of failing to "prevent an unfolding genocide" against Palestinians in Gaza amid Israel's military assault on the besieged enclave. At the time of the filing, Israel had killed around 11,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children.

Ahead of Friday's hearing, the death toll is nearly 26,000 Palestinians, with the majority of those killed women and children.

The lawsuit, filed against US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, seeks to require that the US do everything in its power to stop Israel's killing of Palestinians in Gaza. It also seeks to halt US arms shipments to Israel.

Israel-Palestine war: Palestinians sue Biden for failing to prevent 'unfolding genocide' in Gaza
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The Biden administration had tried to dismiss the case in the US, telling the Oakland court the lawsuit should be dismissed because it would override the foreign policy decisions of the executive branch, and therefore would be "in violation of the constitutional separation of powers".

Biden's legal team also said that the case had no merit, given that Israel is an independent sovereign country that makes its own decisions, including on how to conduct its war in Gaza.

Lawyers for the Palestinian plaintiffs have argued otherwise. Washington sent military advisors familiar with urban combat to Israel and rushed arms shipments to the country.

Ahead of the hearing this Friday, the Biden administration tried one more attempt to have the case dismissed.

Still, despite the attempts to halt proceedings in the case, the court will continue to hold its first hearing on Friday, which in addition to being public will also be livestreamed.

Local community groups have been organising around Friday's hearing for weeks, and plan to pack the courtroom with Palestinians. They also are planning a solidarity rally outside the courtroom.

"As a Palestinian from Gaza and as an American who is paying for Israel’s slaughter of my own family, I am obligated to do everything I can to put an end to our government’s continued provision of weapons, money, and diplomatic cover for Israel to further its genocide against Gaza and that includes asking the courts to intervene," Haddad said.

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