Plaintiffs want the federal court to urge the US to use its influence to get Israel to end its hostilities in Gaza.
A civil case accusing United States President Joe Biden and other senior US officials of being complicit in Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza has begun at a federal court in California.
Lawyers representing Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, attended Friday’s proceedings along with the plaintiffs who accuse them of “failure to prevent and complicity in the Israeli government’s unfolding genocide”.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a US civil liberties group, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the human rights organisation, Defence for Children – Palestine; Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group based in the occupied West Bank; and eight Palestinians and US citizens with relatives in Gaza.
During Friday’s hearing, the court heard from lawyers, activists and organisers, including doctors in Gaza, about the situation that Palestinians have been facing for nearly four months.
I’m inside the US federal court where Palestinian plaintiffs are suing Biden, Blinken & Austin for failure to prevent -& complicity in – Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza
— Dena Takruri (@Dena) January 26, 2024
Since the war began on October 7, more than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza following a Hamas attack on Israel that killed about 1,100 people there.
The CCR complaint was first filed in November last year and said Biden, Blinken and Austin “have not only been failing to uphold the country’s obligation to prevent a genocide but have enabled the conditions for its development by providing unconditional military and diplomatic support [to Israel]”.
The CCR is asking the court to “declare that defendants have 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 of Gaza”.
The group is also calling for the US to use its influence over Israel to end the hostilities against Palestinians in Gaza.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from the court in Oakland on Friday, said the CCR is arguing that by providing weapons to Israel, the US’s support violates the 1948 Genocide Convention.
In response, the lawyers for the Biden administration “are focusing on a very narrow legal argument”, he said.
“They are saying the court does not have the authority to rule on this. They’re citing what is called the political doctrine, and it has to do with the separation of powers in the United States,” Reynolds said.
He explained that lawyers are arguing that the conduct of foreign policy, diplomacy, military activities and the relations between allies are in the “political purview of the executive branch, in other words, the president and the cabinet” and, therefore, not amenable to judicial action by other branches of power that make up the US government.
The judge appeared to also question his authority in the case, Reynolds said.
“This is really the fundamental question, whether he’s got the authority to rule on this, but the judge did open the proceedings by a litany of just describing the plight of Palestinians in Gaza,” our correspondent said.
Earlier on Friday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to take all measures possible to prevent acts of genocide against Gaza and to do more to help civilians.
Still, it failed to call for a ceasefire, which South Africa, who presented the case to the ICJ, had called for.