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Palestinian American plaintiffs demanded that a federal court in California force the White House withdraw U.S. aid to Israel pending a Gaza cease-fire and accused President Biden, as well as other administration officials, of abetting the genocide of Palestinians.
In over two hours of testimony, before Judge Jeffrey White at the U.S. District Court of Oakland, plaintiffs of this unusual lawsuit expressed their grief and outrage. They choked back tears while they spoke about their loved ones killed in Gaza.
One Palestinian immigrant, who lives in Fairfield, Calif., said seven members of his family had been killed in airstrikes in Gaza, including the children of a cousin “who is like a brother to me.” Another, living in San Ramon, Calif., said his family had lost more than 100 members, and a single Israeli attack had killed his cousin, his cousin’s son, and 14 members of a neighbor’s family.
The testimony came in the second judicial proceeding in a day to frame Israel’s bombardment of the embattled Palestinian enclave as a potentially grave violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Hours earlier, the United Nations’ highest judicial body Order Israel to prevent genocidal acts by its forces, as part of that court’s consideration of formal charges that Israel’s response to Hamas-led terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 was crafted to deny Palestinians the right to exist.
The federal case of Northern CaliforniaGiven the odds, it is unlikely that this project will succeed Legal precedentsThat limits judicial power of U.S. presidents in foreign policy decisions. But the lawsuit has energized pro Palestinian activist, who have been convinced about a dozen local governmentsBay Area, Atlanta and all other regions of the nation to call for a Gaza cease-fire.
Telling the plaintiffs that he wanted them to know that they “have been seen,” the judge called the testimony “gut wrenching” and the case “probably the most difficult” he had ever dealt with.
Next week, a ruling is expected in the federal lawsuit.
In their defense before the International Court of Justice, Israeli officials categorically deny accusations of genocide. They argue that their military has attempted to preserve civilian lives and that they allowed daily supplies to Gaza. Israel also claimed that comments made about Palestinians by individuals who did not have the power to make decisions were taken out-of-context or made without authority. The International Court of Justice may not rule on genocide charges for many years.
Israel has almost razed Gaza in the months following the Oct. 7 attack. Israeli officials claim that about 1,200 people died and 240 were held hostage. Hamas, the governing Palestinian group in Gaza, is also an armed Palestinian force. Local health officials in Gaza say that more than 25,000 people have been killed in the onslaught, including thousands of children, and that the vast majority of the territory’s population of 2.2 million have been forced from their homes.
The following are some of the ways to get in touch with each other: Legal actionThe lawsuit, filed in California on November 13, by two Palestinian humanitarian groups and eight supporters in the United States as well as Gaza, was argued by lawyers of a progressive nonprofit on Friday. It accuses President Biden, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, through their “unconditional support” of Israel, of violating federal common law by defying customary international law binding the United States to the Genocide Convention.
The plaintiffs have asked Judge White, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, to order those officials to “take all measures within their power” to stop “Israel’s commission of genocidal acts against the Palestinian people of Gaza.” They also have requested injunctions halting further aid for Israel and preventing the White House “from obstructing attempts by the international community, including the United Nations, to implement a cease-fire.”
“My family is being killed on my dime,” Laila el-Haddad, On Friday, a Palestinian author and activist living in Clarksville told the judge that she was a Palestinian activist. She said that one of her relatives lives in Gaza under a nylon tarp with her husband and four children, who are all cancer patients. One relative held his brother while he bled, and then buried him into a mass grave. Israeli attacks have killed 88 relatives just on her mother’s side of the family, she said.
The California case, like the proceedings at The Hague, Friday, at the International Court of Justice which have no enforcement means, appears to be largely a symbolic one. The U.S. government’s executive branch generally has wide legal latitude over foreign policy decisions.
“Decisions about whether and how to attempt to influence foreign nations, and whether and how to provide them military assistance, financial assistance, or other support, are constitutionally committed to the political branches of the Government,” the administration’s lawyers wrote in a filing on Dec. 8.
On Friday, Jean Lin, a special litigation counselor for the Justice Department, told the judge, “Your honor simply has no jurisdiction.”
However, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Katherine Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, argued that the court had both the legal discretion and the duty to “serve as a check” against a potential genocide under the terms of the Genocide Convention.
The law is on the government’s side, according to legal experts.
“The case law is clear that challenges to foreign policy are non-justiciable political questions,” Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California, Berkeley, law school, said in an interview earlier this week.
The government’s lawyers have also pointed out that President Biden has said since the Oct. 7 attack that the United States “unequivocally stands for the protection of civilian life,” and that the “vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas.”
Basim Elkarra is a plaintiff as well as the executive director of Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He said in an earlier interview that the plaintiffs did what they thought was in their power to stop Israeli military killing people in Gaza.
Mr. Elkarra, a Palestinian American who spent summers as a child in Gaza and now serves on the Sacramento School Board and is a Democrat said that his family had lost 65 relatives to Israeli bombings.
“We’re putting the administration on notice,” Mr. Elkarra said.