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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Palestinians file lawsuit accusing Biden administration of violating Genocide Convention

Plaintiffs are asking that the U.S. government be ordered to use all measures within its power to end the bombing of the people of Gaza.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Several residents of Gaza and two nongovernmental human rights organizations say in a lawsuit filed in federal court in California Monday that the Biden administration failed to fulfill its legal responsibility to "prevent the unfolding genocide of Palestinian people."

The plaintiffs, represented by the nonprofit Center for Constitutional Rights, say in the lawsuit that the federal government has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by failing to intervene in Israel’s recent actions in Gaza.

The convention defines genocide as acts committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group,” which can be accomplished through killing, inflicting serious bodily or mental harm upon a targeted group, or by “inflicting upon the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Israel’s military actions are estimated to have killed at least 11,000 civilians in Gaza and displaced about 1.5 million since Oct. 7, although the plaintiffs note the casualty estimate has not been updated since Nov. 10, following the collapse of services and communications at hospitals across Northern Gaza. 

"For the past 38 days, the world has watched senior Israeli officials use dehumanizing language in connection with their expressed intent to destroy and displace Palestinians in Gaza while imposing an unrelenting siege, and intentionally depriving Palestinians the conditions of life necessary for human survival," the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit. "The Israeli military has dropped an estimated 25,000 tons of explosives on Palestinians in Gaza — the approximate explosive power of two nuclear bombs."

The plaintiffs seek to prevent President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin II from providing arms, money or diplomatic support to Israel.

"The United States has been obligated, from the time it learned of the specter of a genocide of the Palestinian people, to exercise its clear and considerable influence on Israel to prevent this grave crime from unfolding," the plaintiffs said in the lawsuit. "The President and the Secretaries of State and Defense have not only been failing to uphold the country's obligation to prevent a genocide, 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 even in the face of numerous Israeli governmental statements reflecting a genocidal intent."

They plaintiffs said that recent crimes committed by Hamas — including killing an estimated 1,200 Israelis and holding hundreds hostage — do not justify the Israeli government’s actions. Israel is targeting an entire population, killed more than 4,600 children and left thousands missing, while destroying hospitals and schools and cutting off access to food, water and electricity in Gaza, the plaintiffs added in the lawsuit.

“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, under both the 1948 Genocide Convention to which it is a party as well as customary international law, 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,” genocide expert William Schabas said in his declaration on the case, according to a press statement.

The plaintiffs also include some U.S. citizens who have family members who have been displaced or otherwise affected by the bombardment of Gaza.

“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 plaintiff Mohammad Herzallah, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian origin. “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.”

Katherine Gallagher, a senior attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said the U.S. has a clear and binding obligation to prevent genocide under Article 1 of the Genocide Convention, which the U.S. Congress ratified in 1988.

The Biden administration, plaintiffs say, is actively aiding Israel’s actions as Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed “unwavering” U.S. support. Khaled Quzmar, general director at plaintiff NGO Defense for Children International – Palestine, pointed out the Israeli military’s ongoing use of U.S. funding and weapons.

“While people protest in the streets, world leaders show, day after day, that they lack the temerity to end the catastrophic and unprecedented destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza,” Quzmar said. 

Mass protests of Israel’s actions have taken place in cities around the world since the region erupted with violence last month, including about 180,000 marching across France on Monday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dismissed calls for a ceasefire unless it includes the release of all Hamas hostages captured on Oct. 7. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week appeared to criticize Israel for not doing enough to minimize harm to civilians and called for a return to unified Palestinian governance over the West Bank and Gaza under the Palestinian Authority.

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