Palestinians Sue US Leaders for Aiding Israel’s Genocide

Biden, Blinken and Austin are being named in court — as well as in the streets around the world — for their unwavering and illegal support of Israeli genocide, writes Marjorie Cohn.

A child looking at shrouds representing the corpses of Palestinian children at an Oct. 28 rally and march from the White House to the State Department in Washington, D.C., to demand a ceasefire and immediate end to the Israeli bombings of Gaza. (Diane Krauthamer, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Marjorie Cohn

Two Palestinian human rights organizations, three Palestinians and five Palestinian Americans brought an emergency motion in United States federal on court on Nov. 16 to immediately force President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to stop providing additional weapons, money and military and diplomatic support to Israel, which is committing genocide in Gaza.

“Our Palestinian clients are asking the court to urgently order Biden, Blinken and Austin to stop supporting Israel’s genocide,” Maria LaHood, deputy legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Palestinians, said in an interview with Truthout. She said:

“Israeli officials stated their intent to eliminate everything in Gaza, and then proceeded to carpet-bomb it, killing more than 11,000 people, including nearly 5,000 children thus far — many more are missing, buried under rubble, crushed and suffocating before they die.”

LaHood also pointed to Israel’s ongoing siege in which Palestinians in Gaza remain cut off from food, water and electricity. “Those still alive are starving and drinking contaminated water, fearing being bombed. Yet the U.S. continues to expedite weapons and other support, in defiance of its international law obligation to prevent genocide, not fuel it,” LaHood told Truthout.

“Our clients, who have already collectively lost more than 116 of their family members, are asking the court to provide preliminary relief so they do not suffer even more irreparable harm,” she said.

The motion for preliminary injunction is grounded in U.S. officials’ legal duty to prevent — not exacerbate — Israel’s ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.

The motion says that an immediate court order is necessary to protect the plaintiffs from “irreparable harm.” Some of the plaintiffs face a grave risk of death from Israel’s war on Gaza.

Palestinians Sue Biden, Blinken & Austin

 Biden with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18. (The White House, Public domain)

The emergency motion that the group of Palestinians filed on Nov. 16 came days after the same group of Palestinian plaintiffs sued Biden, Blinken and Austin in the U.S. District Court of Northern California for failure to prevent genocide and complicity in genocide.

The complaint — which the group filed on Nov. 13, after more than five weeks of Israel’s unrelenting slaughter in Gaza — alleges violations of the Genocide Convention, the Genocide Convention Implementation Act and customary international law which forbids genocide.

Plaintiffs include Defense for Children International – Palestine; Al-Haq; three Palestinian individuals who reside in Gaza and five Palestinian Americans who have family in Gaza.

“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 Plaintiff Dr. Omar Al-Najjar, an intern physician at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

“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.”

Team Biden continues to unequivocally and unconditionally enable Israel’s genocide in Gaza. But Biden, Blinken and Austin are finally being called to account in court — as well as in the streets around the world — for their unwavering and illegal support of Israeli genocide.

The U.S. sends $3.8 billion in annual military assistance to Israel, more than it provides to any other country. Israel has special access to U.S. military stockpiles, likely worth up to $4.4 billion.

The U.S. has long provided political and diplomatic cover to Israel by blocking resolutions in the United Nations Security Council condemning Israel’s human rights violations, and undermining efforts to hold Israel accountable in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Israel Is Committing Genocide in Gaza

Blinken with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Oct. 12. (State Department, Chuck Kennedy, Public domain)

Article II of the Genocide Convention defines genocide as specific acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The acts include: 1) killing members of the group; 2) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; and 3) deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

[Related: Invoking the Genocide Convention Against Israel and Craig Murray: Activating the Genocide Convention]

As of Nov. 10, Israeli occupying forces had killed more than 11,078 Palestinians in Gaza, 4,506 of whom were children. Israeli forces had caused serious bodily and mental harm by injuring 27,490 people in Gaza. About 2,700 more, including approximately 1,500 children, were missing. Israel also forced the displacement of 1.5 million people, half the population of Gaza.

For the past five weeks, the Israeli government has intensified its preexisting and already severe blockade of Gaza, with a “total siege” by further restricting the entry into Gaza of basic necessities, including food, water, medicine and fuel, and by cutting off electricity.

In his declaration in support of the motion for preliminary injunction, Professor William Schabas, a leading expert on genocide, who is also Jewish, wrote that the 

“avowed policy of depriving Gaza of water, food, medicine and electricity, bearing in mind the rather desperate economic situation in the territory prior to the conflict and the fact that the borders are sealed, leaving the people of Gaza with nowhere to go, will inexorably lead to their physical destruction. If the siege and blockade continue, there can be no other outcome.”

Public statements by Israeli leaders constitute evidence of an “intent to destroy, in whole or in part” a “national group.” Palestinians in Gaza constitute a substantial part of the Palestinian nation.

Senior Israeli officials and politicians have used dehumanizing rhetoric to describe Palestinians in Gaza, calling them “human animals” and “children of darkness,” and refusing to distinguish between civilians and combatants, declaring that the whole population of Gaza is responsible for the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack.

The New York Times reported that, “Calls for Gaza to be ‘flattened,’ ‘erased’ or ‘destroyed’ had been mentioned about 18,000 times since Oct. 7 in Hebrew posts on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, said FakeReporter, an Israeli group that monitors disinformation and hate speech.”

Violated Legal Duty to Prevent Genocide

In the aftermath of an air strike on a northern Gaza hospital, the Security Council on Oct. 18 failed to adopt a resolution for humanitarian pauses to allow full, safe and unhindered access for United Nations agencies and their partners due to a U.S. veto. (UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

Article I of the Genocide Convention imposes a duty on all States Parties, which include Israel and the U.S. who have ratified the treaty, to prevent genocide. The International Court of Justice said in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro that “a State’s obligation to prevent, and the corresponding duty to act, arise at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed.”

[Related: Craig Murray: The Right of Self-Defense]

The Center for Constitutional Rights’ motion for preliminary injunction charges that:

“Defendants have been on notice of the risk of genocide since at least October 9, if not already on October 7, through the public and widely circulated statements and actions by Israeli officials with whom they were in close, regular contact and consultation, as well as by warnings of indicators of genocide from United Nations officials and other sources that have only increased since then.”

Reports and images of Israel’s assault on the Palestinians in Gaza accompanied by words and actions of Israeli leaders revealing the intention to ethnically cleanse Gaza of Palestinians have been ubiquitous.

Yet instead of fulfilling their legal duty to prevent the unfolding genocide, Biden, Blinken and Austin poured gasoline on the fire by sending Israel vast amounts of weaponry, money and advisory support. On Oct. 18, the U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have called for a ceasefire and urged Israel to rescind its order to 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza to leave their homes and move to southern Gaza.

Biden, Blinken & Austin Complicit

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, with Austin in Tel Aviv on Oct. 13. (DoD, Chad J. McNeeley)

Complicity to commit genocide can only occur if there is a punishable act of genocide by another state or persons. The accomplice enables or facilitates the crime but doesn’t have to share the specific intent to commit genocide. A defendant may be liable for genocide if he knowingly provides assistance, encouragement or moral support for the crime.

Furnishing arms and ammunition and operational support and advice that armed forces use to commit atrocities can constitute aiding and abetting if the defendant knew his actions would assist the international law violation.

The lawsuit charges that defendants Biden, Blinken and Austin transferred a significant amount of weapons and military equipment to Israel. They asked Congress to appropriate $14.1 billion in additional military assistance to Israel. Blinken authorized a $320 million transfer of military equipment to an Israeli manufacturer of kits for precision bombs.

U.S. leaders are intimately involved in day-to-day assistance to Israel as it bombards Gaza. On Oct. 30, Defense Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh stated that Defense Department and other officials, “all the way up to the president have certainly informed and at least guided some of what the Israelis are doing on the ground in their ground operation,” the complaint says.

U.S. officials refuse to place any limitations on Israel’s use of U.S.-furnished weaponry to carry out its genocidal assault on the Palestinians in Gaza. On Nov. 7, Singh admitted that “we don’t put conditions on weapons that … we’re sending or that Israel is using.”

Further, Biden continues to refuse to call for a ceasefire. On Nov. 9, when asked at a press briefing about the chances of a ceasefire, he replied, “None. No possibility.”

The complaint states, 

“As Israel’s closest ally and strongest supporter, being its biggest provider of military assistance by a large margin and with Israel being the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II, the United States has the means available to have a deterrent effect on Israeli officials now pursuing genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Lawsuit Seeks Declaratory & Injunctive Relief

In their lawsuit, the Palestinian plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that defendants Biden, Blinken and Austin violated their duty under customary international law, as part of federal common law:

  • “to take all measures within their power to prevent Israel from committing genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza;

  • that prohibits their complicity in genocide, by knowingly continuing to provide assistance that enables and facilitates Israel’s commission of genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

The plaintiffs are also seeking an injunction ordering defendants to take all measures within their power to prevent Israel’s commission of genocidal acts against the Palestinians in Gaza, including but not limited to ordering defendants to exert influence over Israel to:

  • “end its bombing of the Palestinian people of Gaza, resulting in mass killing and serious injury;

  • lift the siege on Gaza and allow all electricity, fuel, food, water and humanitarian aid into Gaza; and

  • prevent the ‘evacuation’ or forcible transfer and expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and ensure freedom of movement.”

Finally, plaintiffs are asking the court to issue an injunction to prohibit defendants from:

  • “providing, facilitating, or coordinating military assistance and financing to Israel, including sales, transfer or delivery of weapons and arms to Israel, and providing military equipment and personnel, advancing Israel’s commission of genocidal acts;

  • obstructing attempts by the international community, including at the UN, to implement a ceasefire and lift the siege on Gaza.”

The lawsuit says that even the crimes committed by the military wing of Hamas on Oct. 7 that killed approximately 1,200 Israelis, including many civilians, and kidnapped 240 others, cannot legally justify the targeting of an entire population and collective punishment the Israeli government has meted out, let alone genocide.

Israel, as an occupying power, cannot claim self-defense against the people it occupies, the lawsuit maintains. Moreover, the intent to commit genocide repeatedly expressed by Israeli officials belies any claim to self-defense.

“Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which sets the confines for the invocation and use of self-defense by States, is inapplicable when the threat originates from a territory over which Israel exercises control,” the lawsuit states, citing the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion in “Legal Consequences of Construction of a Wall in Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

Congress is considering the request by Biden, Blinken and Austin to authorize more than $14 billion in additional military assistance to Israel. On Nov. 3, the National Lawyers Guild, Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal sent a letter to members of Congress alerting them that they could face legal liability for aiding, abetting, inciting or conspiring to commit genocide by appropriating funds to support Israel’s ongoing genocide.

A hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction is set for Jan. 11, 2024, in the Oakland, California, courtroom of Judge Donna M. Ryu.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the national advisory boards of Assange Defense and Veterans For Peace, and the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues. She is co-host of “Law and Disorder” radio.

This article is from Truthout and reprinted with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

10 comments for “Palestinians Sue US Leaders for Aiding Israel’s Genocide

  1. Horatio
    November 25, 2023 at 00:50

    Unfortunately, what has come out of all this is an evaluation of the holocaust and Jews in particular. The memorials all over the Western World are a stratagem used as justification for slaughter. It’s been reported that 80% of Israelis condone the killing. Amnesty International has reported that the schools teach hatred of the Palestinian. Therefore getting rid of Bibi will not cure this taint of personality.

  2. CaseyG
    November 22, 2023 at 14:17

    Israel has been murdering Palestinians and stealing land since 1948. That nation began murdering Palestinians in 1948—and yet the Palestinians have been able to resist—but now—I am horrified that Joe Biden is so incredibly stupid—- and that the US military is so involved in murdering Palestinians.WHERE , is the humanity, Biden and Blinken?

    Why does Israel continue to get $3 billion US dollars a year—when Aericans are jobless and homeless. Israel makes so much money off its war materials. that it neither deserves nor need US money.

    AMERICA—LAND of the Fleeced and Home of the Knave!

    • GC
      November 24, 2023 at 13:38

      Perfectly said. Disappoimted in Biden and crew as well.

  3. Eddie S
    November 22, 2023 at 14:03

    The Biden apologists need to look at articles like this when they bemoan the fact that voters like myself in a ‘swing state’ (Wisconsin) vote for peace candidates Jill Stein/Cornel West in 2024 instead of the Democratic nominee. Unlike Bill Clinton’s triangulation statement regarding progressive/left voters, when he reportedly said ‘where are they going to go?’ dismissively, there ARE more humanistic parties (like the US Green Party) ‘to go’ to.

  4. Selina Sweet
    November 22, 2023 at 12:05

    Time for a national referendum where the citizenry votes to support or reject Biden’s et al ethnic cleansing of Gaza. Biden’s continuing actions announce there are no degrees of separation between the USA and Israel. What do you imagine the fallout had Trump played Siamese twin to Netanyahu as Biden is doing?

  5. John McFadden
    November 22, 2023 at 11:59

    Welcome development but unfortunately it’s unlikely to be effective as the initial hearing is scheduled for January 4th.
    Meanwhile the genocide continues unabated with the US administrations unstinting military diplomatic and political support.

  6. Vera Gottlieb
    November 22, 2023 at 10:56

    As long as the guilty parties continue to ignore calls for peace, any resolutions are a total waste of time. So much for humane society. The ZIONAZIS will continue getting away with murder…literally.

  7. Randal Marlin
    November 22, 2023 at 10:52

    Israel has every reason to respond vehemently to the outrageous, murderous behavior of Hamas, but as Camus noted in another time of murderous activity in Algeria, there are limits. Killing the innocent, especially children, is a limit. Somehow, people have to rise above perceiving others through stereotypes (“human animals,” “cockroaches,” “Colorado beetles,” “vermin,” and the like) and rediscover their humanity.

    Netanyahu is severely compromised regarding the motives for his own murderous policies and decisions. One could sympathize if the extreme actions he has taken were the only way to prevent another Holocaust. But (1) the actions he has taken may well foster attitudes that would fuel exactly what he ostensibly is combating; (2) he may be motivated by a desire to escape legal difficulties affecting him personally; (3) he may be motivated by the desire to provide more land for a greater Israel.

    I would hope for success in the court challenge, but I doubt it will succeed, and I am mindful how easy it is to re-awaken to forces of anti-Jewish feeling that empowered Hitler and the Holocaust he perpetrated.
    All things considered, I wish the court challengers success, in the court of public opinion, if not in the actual court.

  8. Rainy Day Woman
    November 22, 2023 at 09:35

    Just wanted to wish Americans “Happy Death of Democracy Day”.

    Today, Nov 22, marks the 60th anniversary of the public execution of democracy in America. It occurred in Daley Plaza, Dallas TX, on Nov 22, 1963.

    President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had an average approval rating of over 70% for his time in office. That is what democracy looks like. A popular leader with public support. A government of the people, by the people and for the people, should by definition always have leaders who are popular with the people. This is what democracy looks like. A popular leader giving ‘peace speeches’ because the people want peace. [JFK at American University]

    Today, Genocide Joe’s approval rating has dropped below 40%. 3/4 of Americans tell pollsters that the nation is going in the wrong direction. This is not what democracy looks like.

    This lawsuit might have a chance, in a functioning democracy that believes in blind justice. In modern America …forgetaboutit. Authoritarian rule is not reversed by authoritarian courts ruling against the authoritarian system …. forgetaboutit.

  9. Robert
    November 22, 2023 at 08:33

    Most people around the world consider the United Nations to be merely an ineffective organization. I think that is the belief even of citizens of the United States and the US is the country that benefits most from the UN. But the current UN goes way beyond ineffective. The UN is a US “monopoly” and cannot/will not be changed from within. The world is in desperate need of a UN type organization that is not controlled by the United States. Since the US will never give up control of the current organization, “reform” is not going to occur, so a new, start from scratch organization is needed.

    High on the list of BRICS + goals should be an alternative to the UN. And rule #1 needs to be that the physical structure is not anywhere in the United States. Membership would not be limited to BRICS members. I don’t see any other way to break the destructive monopoly the world is currently operating under.

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