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Palestinians Charge Genocide in U.S. Court; Biden, Blinken Sued for Backing Israel’s War on Gaza

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Image Credit: Carlos Barria/Reuters

The Biden administration is on trial in the United States for failure to prevent the “unfolding genocide” in Gaza. On Friday, lawyers for the Biden administration argued the court lacks the proper jurisdiction to decide the case, while Palestinians and Americans testified about atrocities committed by Israel with American support. “I can’t think of another time where, in a U.S. federal court, Palestinians have been on the witness stand, one after the other after the other, describing their experiences under Israeli occupation,” says Diala Shamas, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the case against President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in November. “Being Palestinians in America necessitates our involvement in this case,” says Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian writer who testified in court about her family’s experience under Israeli assault. “It obligates us to do everything we can to take every possible recourse, including legal recourse, to try and put an end to this, since it’s our tax dollars.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Just hours after the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent genocide in Gaza, but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, a hearing in another genocide case began here in the United States. The Center for Constitutional Rights first filed the case in November against President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

For three hours on Friday in a federal courtroom in Oakland, California, Palestinians and Americans testified, in person and by phone from Gaza, about the Biden administration’s failure to prevent what they called the, quote, “unfolding genocide” in Gaza. Lawyers for the Biden administration say the court lacks proper jurisdiction to decide the case, which they argue is a matter of foreign policy. The judge said, quote, “This probably is the most difficult case factually that this court has ever had.”

For more, we’re joined by two guests. Laila El-Haddad is a Palestinian writer and journalist from Gaza who testified in court Friday, author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between and co-editor of the book Gaza Unsilenced with Refaat Alareer, the Palestinian academic and activist killed in December by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, along with his brother, his sister and her four children. Also joining us is Diala Shamas, senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Diala, why don’t you start off by laying out the case?

DIALA SHAMAS: Thank you for having me, Amy.

Yeah, so, we filed this case in November, laying out all of the ways in which the U.S. government, this Biden administration, in particular, President Biden, Secretaries Blinken and Austin, have failed in their duty to prevent an unfolding genocide in Gaza, but also are complicit in a genocide in Gaza. And we, a couple of days after filing our complaint, sought a preliminary injunction, which is essentially an emergency order, saying to the court, you know, the stakes here are so high, the harms to our plaintiffs, the Palestinians, who are plaintiffs in this case — and we have two human rights organizations with staff in Gaza that are plaintiffs, along with a number of individuals, some of whom are Palestinian Americans with families in Gaza, many of whom have been killed and displaced and are suffering all of the conditions that we have all come to know all too well, and we also have plaintiffs in Gaza, Palestinians who are, you know, currently displaced and who have also suffered injuries and loss of relatives. And in our motion for preliminary injunction, we essentially tell the court, unless the court intervenes now and issues an urgent — some urgent relief, the harm to these people, these Palestinians, will be so irreparable, and so we need some urgent action, pending the sort of resolution of the litigation, which always, of course, takes a much longer time. And so, the hearing — and the government filed a motion to dismiss, as well as an opposition to our motion seeking that urgent relief. And we had that hearing on Friday, which you were just describing, a really remarkable hearing.

In many ways, I think, in large part, you know, one of the most remarkable aspects was, as far as I can tell, as far as I’m aware of, we’ve been litigating Palestine-related cases and just been a student of them for decades, and I can’t think of another time where in a U.S. federal court Palestinians have been on the witness stand, one after the other after the other, describing, you know, their experiences under Israeli occupation, uninterrupted, in a way that offers a holistic, complete and complicated accounting of what has been happening to Palestinians, and in this case, not just over the course of the last 16 weeks since the latest assault and this unfolding genocide started, but really kind of placing it in a broader context. Every single one of our plaintiffs got up there and, in order to explain the impact to the court, to the judge, of the current moment and Israeli calls for Nakba now, had to explain the history of the Nakba. I’ve never heard the word “Nakba” be said in federal court so many times. And it was an important part of their telling, because they were there to — they were tasked with, you know, describing the urgency and the harm and the injury that they are experiencing. And it is, of course, a multilayered harm. And in order to explain how they even got to Gaza in the first place, they have to explain their families’ history as a refugee population, the fragmentation of Palestinians. So, there was so much that was really remarkable about the hearing, but that really stands out to me as one of the major aspects.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Diala, if you can quickly say: How did the preliminary judgment of the International Court of Justice in The Hague weigh in and inform the case that you brought, because it happened right after, on Friday, as they said Israel has to prevent a genocide in Gaza? And also, the significance of the judge saying this is the most difficult case he’ll ever have to decide?

DIALA SHAMAS: Yeah, so, as you said, mere hours after the ICJ, the International Court of Justice, issued its order, we — you know, it was 4 a.m. California time. Our hearing started at 9 a.m. We reviewed it as fast as we could, submitted it to the court, because it was, of course, relevant, and hadn’t really had the time to fully process it. But walking into that hearing with the sort of validation, in many ways, although we all, I think, knew exactly — in some ways, we didn’t need the validation, but that the International Court, that the World Court had found that there was a plausible case of genocide, that required the order that it issued with the provisional measures, was significant. The judge took note of it.

And in many ways, we’re in similar postures in our federal court proceeding as that International Court of Justice proceeding, which is the provisional measures at the International Court level also just sought to get these urgent provisional measures at a showing of plausibility. So, we don’t have time to have the full litigation on the merits, because by the time we come around, the damage will be done, and there will be nobody left to save. And so, that’s why we got that order from the ICJ. And we’re making the similar arguments to the court here. We just need this preliminary injunction now, and then we can litigate this down the line.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring — I want to bring in Laila El-Haddad. You’re a Palestinian writer and journalist from Gaza. You are the co-editor of a book with Refaat Alareer, who was killed in Gaza only recently, well-known, acclaimed writer and academic in Gaza. You are the author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything in Between, speaking to us, though, from near Baltimore today. What did you testify in court on Friday, Laila?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: Good morning. Thank you so much for having me, Amy.

I and other plaintiffs, who spoke in a personal capacity, not the organizational plaintiffs, about how this ongoing genocide, and particularly U.S. complicity in it, has impacted our families in Gaza and, of course, our families here, as well. So, I started off by introducing myself — excuse me. As you can see, it’s been a long weekend. My voice is completely gone. I spoke about my family both in Gaza City and in the south of Gaza, in Khan Younis. And I started off by talking about how Israel had killed multitudes of them — on my mother’s side, I believe the number is now 86, and five of my immediate family members in Gaza City — and had displaced the rest of them to multiple locations, and how Israel was responsible for starving them and depriving them of basic human needs and so on, all with active U.S. support, with U.S. weapons and with U.S. financial support and with U.S. diplomatic support.

I spoke about my aunt and my adult cousins and my cousin’s wife in Gaza City. I had finally had a chance, after three months, to get the full details from the surviving brother, who is now — I mean, even his whereabouts now are unknown after a heavy night of Israeli bombardment on Gaza City. But he was telling me how he had to, on his own, retrieve his sister’s body parts, half of his mother, because he couldn’t retrieve the other half, how he had to bury them himself with his own hands in a mass grave, how his sister’s body, my cousin, is still unaccounted for under the rubble, and how he himself was severely injured, and how his brother, my other cousin, bled to death because he couldn’t even access medical care. They couldn’t get paramedics to the area.

So, it was very heavy, very heavy and very painful, but also very urgent. And that was part of the point, is to speak about how we have not had the luxury, as Palestinians, and particularly Palestinians from Gaza, to grieve. We have not had that luxury. And we recognize how being Palestinians in America necessitates our involvement in this case, how it obligates us to do everything we can to take every possible recourse, including legal recourse, to try and put an end to this, since it’s our tax dollars who are being put to work, and American weaponry, as I said, and so on.

AMY GOODMAN: And this latest attack on Khan Younis, as you have any family members there, so many of the people now who are being told to leave Khan Younis, they have moved repeatedly, thinking that each next place was a safe zone, now being forced to Rafah, to the border, to the sea. Where are your family members? And what do you hope will come out of this?

LAILA EL-HADDAD: They are, without exaggeration, everywhere, like everyone else. And I hate to keep saying that, but I sometimes — not to trivialize, but I feel like you look at someone else, and then you say, “Well, at least their situation is a little better,” but truth be told, the entire situation is just beyond description, horrific. And every morning, when I, you know, look at my feed and my WhatsApp and communicate with family members, I try not ask even how they’re doing, but I know that they derive hope from knowing that we are all doing something here to speak out about what’s happening. And that, again, was one of the main motivating factors behind being involved in this lawsuit.

But my family, several of them are actually still in Gaza City. They haven’t left since the very beginning. I have two direct cousins there, and their husbands and all of their children are — one of them is in front of the Nasser Hospital in Gaza City. The others are in Rimal. My one cousin was in the Shifa compound and then decided to go into another neighborhood in Rimal with his family, I don’t even know where, on the street somewhere, because his home was destroyed. My eldest uncle, who’s blind and deaf, with his son and family, are in central Gaza, in Zawayda, near the Maghazi refugee camp. And my mother’s family were in Khan Younis, as you mentioned, and then are now in Mawasi. And so, I haven’t been able to communicate with them for a while. But one of the cousins, I was, and her home in Qarara was destroyed, and she’s now with her four children, literally under a nylon tarp, because they couldn’t even find a tent. And her husband, who has cancer and — yeah, it’s a little — I mean, for those who aren’t familiar, Mawasi is literally a sandy enclave, almost like sand dunes, directly adjacent to the beach, so there’s — I mean, there’s nothing there, beyond the seawater and whatever tents you might have access to.

And now, of course, with aid being cut by several countries, including the United States, which, as it’s been said, Blinken did not hesitate, within a matter of seconds, to shut that aid off. And yet, for more than three months, Palestinians have been enduring an ongoing genocide, which the United States not only has refused to stop, but is actively aiding and abetting, and, despite overwhelming evidence, including President Biden himself acknowledging the attacks have been indiscriminate, or some of the bombings have been indiscriminate, despite overwhelming evidence about — despite the intent by — stated intent by Israeli leaders that there are no innocents in Gaza, that this was intended to make Gaza unlivable —

AMY GOODMAN: Laila —

LAILA EL-HADDAD: — still has not ended that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk about that cutting off of aid to UNRWA in our next segment. I want to thank you so much for being with us, Laila El-Haddad, Palestinian writer, journalist from Gaza, and Diala Shamas, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Next up, we speak to an emergency room physician just back from Khan Younis and with the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland. Norway is saying it will not cut off aid to UNRWA, despite the fact U.S. and 12 other countries are doing so. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “The Saddest Thing” by Melanie, Melanie Safka. The folk singer rose to fame from Woodstock 1969, died last week at the age of 76.

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