US court hears case accusing Biden administration of complicity in Gaza war

Judge to decide on preliminary injunction that would prohibit any further US military or diplomatic support for Israel while the case is being considered

Plaintiffs stand outside federal court in Oakland, California, after presenting oral arguments in a lawsuit filed against the administration of President Joe Biden. Reuters
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Inside a district court in Oakland, California on Friday, a group of Palestinian Americans, Gaza residents and representatives of human rights organisations gave evidence in a case against President Joe Biden's administration, which is accused of complicity in and failure to prevent an unfolding genocide in Gaza.

“It was incredibly powerful and historic,” Laila al-Haddad, a Palestinian-American writer and one of the plaintiffs who has lost more than 100 relatives in Gaza, told The National.

“The testimonies were incredibly moving.

“And for me as a Palestinian American, it was an incredibly powerful moment to be able to share my family's story and to be in that space, to be heard, especially in a US Federal District Court.”

Outside the court, hundreds waved Palestinian flags, chanted and held signs calling for a ceasefire in Gaza after painting nearly an entire block with the messages: “Biden complicit in genocide” and “No bombs for Israel”.

The US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the suit in November on behalf of the plaintiffs Defence for Children Palestine and Al-Haq organisation. The suit names three defendants: Mr Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.

The hearing began hours after the International Court of Justice, the UN's highest court, ruled in a case brought by South Africa that claims of Israel committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza are “plausible”.

It also ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent genocide and allow aid into the coastal enclave.

The Biden administration has said South Africa's case is unfounded.

Lawyers working on the lawsuit in federal court say that the ICJ ruling bolsters their case and argue that Biden administration officials are liable under US and international law to prevent a genocide in Gaza.

They are now waiting for the judge to rule on their motion for a preliminary injunction that would prohibit any further US military or diplomatic support to Israel while the case is being considered.

No date has been set for a decision and it is not clear how long it will take.

“We're hopeful that the court will do the right thing and does everything in its power to stop the genocide,” Diala Shamas, a lawyer for CCR who is representing the plaintiffs, said during a news conference after the hearing.

Mr Biden, who is running for re-election, has been a firm supporter of Israel in its military campaign in Gaza. He bypassed Congress to approve emergency weapons sales to the country and has supported its stated goal of eradicating Hamas, the group that attacked Israel on October 7.

At the UN Security Council, his administration has vetoed all resolutions calling for a ceasefire.

In court, government lawyers brought up the political question doctrine, which holds that some issues are political by definition and not legal and therefore not suitable to be argued in a court of law.

“The judiciary says there might be something that we can see in this case, but we think that it's better reserved for an other branch of government rather than for us to weigh into it,” Noura Erakat, a legal scholar at Rutgers University, explained during a briefing.

“The political question doctrine has been used by the court by federal courts and multiple instances.”

But four months into Israel's war on Gaza, pressure is mounting on world leaders to bring it to an end. More than 26,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed.

The majority of residents have been displaced and face severe shortages of food and water and lack access to medical care.

In Oakland on Friday, Judge Jeffrey White heard more than three hours of testimony from Palestinian Americans, residents of Gaza and experts.

“The testimonies heard by the court are horrific and there are no words to describe them,” Mr White said.

“In 27 years on the bench, this is probably the most difficult case this court has ever had, and one of the most difficult cases legally.”

Updated: January 27, 2024, 4:51 PM