In a bold move reverberating across international legal and political landscapes, Palestinian human rights organizations, individuals, and Palestinian Americans have filed an emergency motion in a U.S. federal court. This urgent legal action, initiated on November 16, targets the highest echelons of the U.S. government: President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The plaintiffs are demanding an immediate cessation of U.S. support — in terms of weapons, funding, and diplomatic backing — to Israel amid allegations of genocide in Gaza.
Maria LaHood, Deputy Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, elucidates the gravity of the situation. She reveals that more than 11,000 Palestinians, including nearly 5,000 children, have perished in Gaza, many still trapped or missing under the rubble. The survivors face a dire situation, deprived of basic necessities like food, water, and electricity, and living in constant fear of bombardment. Despite these alarming circumstances, the U.S. continues to expedite weapons and support to Israel, contravening its international obligation to prevent, not exacerbate, genocide.
The lawsuit: challenging U.S. complicity
This legal challenge is not just a cry for immediate relief but a confrontation of U.S. complicity in what the plaintiffs term as ongoing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. Filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, the lawsuit, initiated on November 13, cites violations of the Genocide Convention, the Genocide Convention Implementation Act, and customary international law. It specifically targets the significant transfer of weapons and military equipment from the U.S. to Israel, alleging that such actions facilitate genocidal acts.
U.S. aid to Israel under scrutiny
The magnitude of U.S. aid to Israel is staggering. Annually, Israel receives $3.8 billion in military assistance from the U.S., more than any other country. This aid includes special access to U.S. military stockpiles, potentially valued up to $4.4 billion. Furthermore, the U.S. has historically provided unwavering political and diplomatic support to Israel, often shielding it from international condemnation and accountability, including at the United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court.
Allegations of genocide
The term ‘genocide’ is not used lightly. Under Article II of the Genocide Convention, genocide involves actions committed with the intent to destroy, wholly or partly, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The lawsuit cites the killing and serious injury of thousands of Palestinians, the displacement of half the Gaza population, and the sealing of borders, leaving no escape for the besieged residents, as indicative of such intent.
Israeli rhetoric and actions: a cause for alarm
The lawsuit points to the public statements of senior Israeli officials and politicians, which include dehumanizing rhetoric and the refusal to distinguish between civilian and combatant populations in Gaza. The nature of these statements and the scale of the destruction wrought in Gaza provide, according to the plaintiffs, evidence of an intent to ethnically cleanse or even commit genocide against the Palestinian people.
Legal obligations and international responsibility
The Genocide Convention, ratified by both Israel and the U.S., imposes a duty on States Parties to prevent genocide. This obligation arises the moment a state becomes aware of a serious risk of genocide. The plaintiffs argue that the U.S., by providing extensive military aid and diplomatic support to Israel, is not only failing in its duty to prevent genocide but is actively complicit in its perpetration.
Demands for action
The Palestinian plaintiffs are seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief from the court. They urge the court to declare the actions of Biden, Blinken, and Austin as violations of their duty to prevent genocide and prohibit their complicity in such acts. They demand immediate measures to prevent Israel’s alleged genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza, including an end to U.S. military assistance and the facilitation of a ceasefire.
A broader call for justice
This lawsuit is part of a broader call for justice and accountability. It resonates with increasing global awareness and condemnation of the plight of Palestinians in Gaza. The plaintiffs, through this legal action, seek not just judicial intervention but also to galvanize international attention and response to what they perceive as an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and a grave injustice against the Palestinian people.
Looking ahead: a critical legal battle
As the world watches, this legal battle represents a critical moment in the struggle for Palestinian rights and the broader fight against impunity in international affairs. The hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction, set for January 11, 2024, marks a significant date in this ongoing saga. The outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications, not only for U.S.-Israel relations but also for the principles of international law and justice.