A group of Palestinian human rights organizations, residents of Gaza, and U.S. citizens with family members impacted by Israel’s ongoing assault jointly sued President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday for failing to “prevent an unfolding genocide.”
The 89-page lawsuit, filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights in a California federal district court, traces 75 years of history and analyzes acts committed and rhetoric espoused by the Israeli government that exhibit a disregard for international law. It is accompanied by a declaration from a genocide expert who describes Israel’s actions as signs of genocide and argues that the Biden administration has breached its duty under international law to prevent it.
“Under international law, the United States has a duty to take all measures available to it to prevent a genocide. Yet, Defendants have repeatedly refused to use their obvious and considerable influence to set conditions or place limits on Israel’s massive bombing and total siege of Gaza,” the lawsuit reads.
“Despite escalating evidence of Israeli policies directed at inflicting mass harm to the Palestinian population in Gaza,” the Biden administration has opposed “a life-saving cease-fire and lifting of the siege, even vetoing United Nations measures calling for a ceasefire,” the lawsuit continues. “Instead, their actions to fund, arm, and endorse Israel’s mass and devastating bombing campaign and total siege of the Palestinians in Gaza constitutes a failure to prevent an unfolding genocide and complicity in its development.”
The Biden administration’s opposition to a ceasefire comes despite mass protests across the U.S. (and the world) urging the government to act to save Palestinian lives, and the suit follows dire warnings from human rights and United Nations experts that Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza and that its actions may amount to a genocide. The Center for Constitutional Rights, or CCR, a U.S.-based nonprofit, itself warned Biden, Blinken, and Austin last month that they could be held responsible for failing to prevent — and indeed supporting — Israel’s crimes in Gaza.
“To be culpable, the provider need not share the recipients’ genocidal intent.”
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs ask the court to enjoin the U.S. officials from providing further military, financial, or diplomatic support to Israel. In a press release, CCR said that some courts have identified “the providing of weapons and other materials to the perpetrators of genocide as a form of complicity. To be culpable, the provider need not share the recipients’ genocidal intent.”
The Pentagon declined to comment, and the White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Israel has severely escalated its campaign against Gaza in recent days, spurring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes in northern Gaza for the southern part of the strip. The bombing campaign has targeted locations that American officials have described as sacred, including hospitals and corridors that Israel had designated as “safe.” Gaza officials have deemed some hospitals out of service because of the intensity of the bombing, to the point of removing babies from incubators.
Meanwhile, after weeks of American officials prodding Israel to follow international law, Israel’s own officials are clear about their intentions. “We are now actually rolling out the Gaza Nakba,” Avi Dichter, Israel’s Minister of Agriculture and former Shin Bet security agency head, said on Saturday.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Palestinian human rights organizations Defense for Children International – Palestine and Al-Haq; Gaza residents Omar Al-Najjar, Ahmed Abu Artema, and Mohammed Ahmed Abu Rokbeh; and U.S. citizens Mohammad Monadel Herzallah, Laila Elhaddad, Waeil Elbhassi, Bassim Elkarra, and “A.N.,” who all have family members who have been killed and displaced by Israel’s war.
“To be honest, it’s difficult to revisit all the scenes of the past weeks. They open a door to hell when I recall them,” said Al-Najjar, a 24-year-old intern physician who works at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis, Gaza, in a statement. “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. The U.S. has to stop this genocide. Everyone in the world has to stop this.”
The plaintiffs trace their case back to the 1948 Nakba (Israel’s displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians) and up to the present day to demonstrate Israel’s persistent violations of human rights and international law. The lawsuit notes that in September, for example — just weeks before Hamas’s attack on Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a map before the U.N. General Assembly titled “The New Middle East” that totally erased the existence of Palestine.
The lawsuit also presents a meticulous timeline from October 7 up to November 8, detailing the scale of violence Israel has inflicted upon Gaza, including its siege and bombing campaign that has now displaced nearly 2 million Palestinians and killed over 11,000. It details Israel’s targets during the military campaign, including repeat bombings of refugee camps and hospitals, and statements by Israeli officials that demonstrate a disregard for international law.
“The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari said on October 10, discussing the “hundreds of tons of bombs” Israel had already dropped by then.
“Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water [in Gaza], there will only be destruction,” said Israeli Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian. “You wanted hell, you will get hell.”
Since those remarks, the Israeli military has waged a campaign that has left millions of Palestinians displaced, thirsty, hungry, sick, and without fuel; launched indiscriminate airstrikes; and used white phosphorus, a chemical weapon that causes burns, in densely populated areas, in direct contravention of international law.
Biden, Blinken, and Austin, meanwhile, have repeatedly affirmed support for Israel. In one instance, after it was widely reported that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called Palestinians in Gaza “human animals,” Austin assured his counterpart that the U.S. was ready to deploy additional military aid to Israel.
Biden, backed by nearly every congressional Republican and most Democrats, is preparing to send $14 billion in military aid to Israel. (Biden’s request to Congress for the funding includes an unprecedented loophole that would allow the White House to approve $3.5 billion in future weapons sales without notifying Congress, In These Times reported.) The lawsuit notes that Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II. As of January 2023, America had sent $260 billion (adjusted for inflation) in military and economic aid to Israel since 1946, and as of March, Israel had $4.4 billion worth of American-provided munitions.
In the diplomatic arena, the U.S. has repeatedly used its veto power in the United Nations to block resolutions critical of Israel’s human rights and international law violations. Amid the current war, the U.S. has opposed multiple resolutions calling for a ceasefire.
“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 Herzallah, one of the plaintiffs with 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.”