US federal judge says Israel plausibly committing genocide, Biden must take note

California court says it does not have jurisdiction, dismisses petition accusing White House of genocide complicity, urges US government to examine support for Israel’s war

Palestinians bury the bodies of people who were killed in fighting with Israel and returned to Gaza by the Israeli military, during a mass funeral in Rafah, Gaza Strip, January 30, 2024. (Fatima Shbair/AP)
Palestinians bury the bodies of people who were killed in fighting with Israel and returned to Gaza by the Israeli military, during a mass funeral in Rafah, Gaza Strip, January 30, 2024. (Fatima Shbair/AP)

A federal court in the United States said Wednesday in response to a petition that Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza is aimed at wiping out the local population and therefore may be genocide.

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California found Israel’s military offensive “is intended to eradicate a whole people and therefore plausibly falls within the international prohibition against genocide.”

The petition filed by Defense for Children International–Palestine charged the US government, on behalf of Palestinian rights groups and Palestinians in Gaza and in the US, with “failure to prevent and complicity in the Israeli government’s unfolding genocide against them, their families, and the 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza.” It urges the government to block aid to Israel.

War erupted when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Thousands of attackers from the Gaza Strip who invaded Israel also abducted 253 people, about half of whom are still in captivity.

Israel responded with a military offensive aimed at removing Hamas from power in Gaza and releasing the hostages.

Washington and the international community have become increasingly concerned by the civilian death toll in the fighting. Israel says it strives to avoid hitting civilians but that Hamas has deliberately embedded itself in the local population to use them as human shields.

Israeli soldiers operate in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on January 30, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

While dismissing the petition on jurisdictional grounds, the court urged US President Joe Biden’s administration “to examine the results of their unflagging support of the military siege against the Palestinians in Gaza.”

Judge Jeffrey White based the decision on “uncontroverted” testimonies by seven Palestinian relatives of people killed during the war, along with “expert opinion proffered at the hearing on these motions as well as statements made by various officers of the Israeli government.”

Judge Jeffrey S. White (Berkeley Law)

It also leaned on the recent decision by the International Court of Justice to not reject outright South Africa’s case accusing Israel of “genocide.”

“It is every individual’s obligation to confront the current siege in Gaza,” White wrote but noted he didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter.

White heard testimony last Friday in federal court in Oakland in the unusual lawsuit filed in November on behalf of Palestinian human rights organizations and people whose family members were killed by Israeli forces following the October 7 assault by the terror group Hamas.

The complaint sought an order requiring that Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “adhere to their duty to prevent, and not further, the unfolding genocide of Palestinian people in Gaza.”

US President Joe Biden speaks at St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, SC, on January 28, 2024. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

White declined to issue a preliminary injunction and dismissed the case. But he was critical of the administration, writing, “There are rare cases in which the preferred outcome is inaccessible to the Court. This is one of those cases.”

He conceded the plaintiffs’ point that “it is plausible that Israel’s conduct amounts to genocide,” and he implored the White House “to examine the results of their unflagging support of the military siege against the Palestinians in Gaza.”

The lawsuit asked the court to declare that the defendants had violated their duties to prevent genocide and to not be complicit in the commission of genocide. It sought immediate relief, including ordering the president and other US officials to exert their influence over Israel to stop its bombing to lift the siege in Gaza and to stop providing or facilitating the sales of weapons and arms to Israel.

It also asked the court to order the defendants to stop obstructing attempts by the international community to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. The United States vetoed in December a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Plaintiffs included Defence for Children International, based in Ramallah, West Bank, and Palestinians in Gaza and in the US, including Waeil Elbhassi, a US citizen of Palestinian origin who lives in San Ramon, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Oakland.

Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, January 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Last week’s hearing in California came the same day as the top court of the United Nations rebuked Israel for its wartime conduct and ordered its government to do all it could to prevent death, destruction, and any acts of genocide but stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive.

The political branches of the US government have wide authority over foreign policy, as the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled when the family of US college student Rachel Corrie tried to sue US bulldozer maker Caterpillar for aiding Israel in war crimes. Corrie was run over and killed in 2003 while trying to stop the demolition of a house in Gaza. The IDF said its soldiers could not see her.

Still, the lawsuit has brought fresh attention to the thousands of Palestinian Americans and other advocates calling for a ceasefire. They have repeatedly taken to the streets calling for the US to stop supplying weapons to Israel and have demanded local city and county governments adopt ceasefire resolutions despite local US officials having little sway over foreign policy.

After listening to hours of testimony Friday, White called the issue before him “the most difficult judicial decision that I’ve ever made,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Plaintiff Laila El-Haddad, a journalist in Maryland, said she had lost nearly 90 members of her extended family to Israeli attacks, the newspaper reported.

Dr. Omar Al-Najjar, also a plaintiff, said he works at a hospital in the southern Gaza city of Rafah where more than 2,000 new patients a day require treatment for severe injuries or illnesses, but there is little to no medicine, the newspaper reported.

Palestinians observe air strike aftermath in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, January 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claimed Thursday that at least 27,019 Palestinians have been killed and 66,139 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, including 118 killed and 190 injured in the past 24 hours.

The terror group’s figures are unverified, don’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, and list all the fatalities as caused by Israel — even those believed to have been caused by hundreds of misfired rockets or otherwise by Palestinian fire.

Israel has previously said it has killed some 10,000 Hamas members, in addition to some 1,000 killed in Israel in the aftermath of the terror group’s October 7 invasion and onslaught.

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