OAKLAND — A U.S. district judge in California dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to force the Biden administration to do all it could to make Israel stop bombing Gaza.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White said he didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter, but he still offered harsh criticism of the administration and said Israel’s actions may amount to genocide.
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 are among the more than 26,000 people killed by Israeli forces following the Oct. 7 assault by the militant group Hamas.
The complaint sought an order requiring that President Joe 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.”
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 have 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 U.S. officials to exert their influence over Israel to stop its bombing and 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 defendants to stop obstructing attempts by the international community to call for a cease-fire in Gaza. The United States vetoed in December a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.
Plaintiffs included Defence for Children International, based in Ramallah, West Bank, and Palestinians in Gaza and in the U.S., including Waeil Elbhassi, a U.S. citizen of Palestinian origin who lives in San Ramon, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Oakland.
Last week’s hearing came the same day as the top court of the United Nations rebuked Israel’s wartime conduct and ordered its government to do all it can 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 U.S. government have wide authority over foreign policy, as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled when the family of U.S. college student Rachel Corrie tried to sue U.S. bulldozer maker Caterpillar of aiding Israel in war crimes. Corrie was run over and killed in 2003 while trying to stop the demolition of a house in Gaza.
Still, the lawsuit has brought fresh attention to the thousands of Palestinian Americans and other advocates calling for a cease-fire. They have repeatedly taken to the streets calling for the U.S. to stop supplying weapons to Israel and have demanded local city and county governments adopt cease-fire resolutions despite local U.S. 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.
Israeli authorities say the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas resulted in about 1,200 people dead and another 250 kidnapped as hostages.
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