By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams
In an effort backed by some of the world’s leading genocide and Holocaust experts, a progressive legal advocacy group on Monday sued U.S. President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for “failure to prevent genocide” by Israeli forces in Gaza and sought an emergency court order to stop American military and diplomatic support for Israel.
Arguing that U.S. leaders “have a legal duty to prevent, and not further,” genocide, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza and the United States aiming to enjoin the Biden administration from “providing further arms, money, and diplomatic support to Israel” as it wages a war on Gaza in which more than 40,000 Palestinians have been killed, wounded, or gone missing, with 70% of the besieged strip’s 2.3 million people forcibly displaced and half of its homes destroyed.
“Biden, Blinken, and Austin, as outlined in the complaint, are sued in their official capacity for failing to prevent an unfolding genocide where they have influence over the state of Israel to do so, and directly abetting its development with weapons, funds, and diplomatic cover, in breach of duties enshrined in the Genocide Convention and customary international law,” CCR said in a statement.
The complaint, which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, cites the U.S. government’s unconditional support for Israel as it bombs the people of Gaza and deprives them of food, water, and other necessities. The complaint states that even the crimes committed by the military wing of Hamas on October 7th that killed an estimated 1,200 Israeli people, including many civilians, and kidnapped 240, cannot legally justify the forms of targeting an entire population and collective punishment meted out by the Israeli government, let alone genocide… Israel has killed over 11,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip—mostly civilians, including more than 4,600 children—and displaced 1.5 million. Thousands of Palestinians remain missing, and Israel’s destruction of hospitals, schools, and most infrastructure in Gaza—as well as intentional deprivation of access to food, water, electricity, and medicine—has rendered life in Gaza impossible.
“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 Dr. Omar Al-Najjar, a 24-year-old intern physician at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis and a plaintiff in the case.
“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,” Al-Najjar added. “The U.S. has to stop this genocide. Everyone in the world has to stop this.”
CCR’s filing contains an expert declaration from William Schabas—a Jewish Canadian academic called “the world expert on the law of genocide”—who wrote 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.”
A separate declaration by genocide and Holocaust scholars John Cox, Victoria Sanford, and Barry Trachtenberg explains how “the genocidal intentions and actions of Israeli leadership resemble other genocides in recent history.”
Genocide is defined under the 1948 convention as killing or causing serious physical or psychological harm to members of a group, “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group,” or “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
The United States has a duty under Article 1 of the Genocide Convention to prevent and punish acts of genocide, an obligation the U.S. Congress made law in 1988 when it ratified the Convention and passed the Genocide Convention Implementation Act (18 USC § 1091). The duty to prevent is heightened given the United States’ considerable influence on Israel. The Biden administration, plaintiffs say, is not merely failing to prevent Israel’s genocide of Palestinians, it is actively abetting it. From the start of the bombing, Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed, through word and deed, “unwavering” U.S. support.
Biden has also been accused of “genocide denial” for rejecting casualty figures provided by Palestinian health officials, even though his administration has cited reports from their agencies as recently as last year.
The Biden administration has also sought an additional armed aid package for Israel worth over $14 billion—that’s atop the nearly $4 billion in annual U.S. military assistance—and has vetoed a Brazil-led United Nations Security Council resolution condemning violence against civilians in Israel and Gaza and calling for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to enter the besieged Palestinian enclave.
“For the last five weeks, President Biden and Secretaries Blinken and Austin have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with an Israeli government that has made clear its intention to destroy the Palestinian population in Gaza,” said Katherine Gallagher, a senior CCR attorney and one of the lawyers who brought the case. “They have continued to provide both military and political support for Israel’s unfolding genocidal campaign while imposing no red lines.”
“The United States has a clear and binding obligation to prevent, not further, genocide,” Gallagher added. “They have failed in meeting their legal and moral duty to use their considerable power to end this horror. They must do so.”
Last week, three Palestinian human rights groups filed a lawsuit in the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging the tribunal to investigate Israel for “genocide” and issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and President Isaac Herzog.
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Brett Wilkins is a staff writer for Common Dreams.