Society / June 10, 2024

Why I’m Suing Joe Biden for Complicity in the Genocide in Gaza

I promised my surviving family members in Gaza that I would do everything in my power to advocate on their behalf.

Laila Elhaddad

President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room at the White House on May 31, 2024, in Washington, DC.

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

In the fall of 2023, still reeling from the death of my beloved Aunt An’am and my cousins Hani, Wafaa, and Hoda in an Israeli air strike on their Gaza City neighborhood, I made a decision to sue the Biden administration over its complicity in Israel’s brutal military campaign in Gaza.

On January 26, the same day the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel may be guilty of genocide in Gaza, I testified in court along with several other Palestinian American and Palestinian plaintiffs in Gaza. My coplaintiffs included the human rights organizations Defense for Children International–Palestine and Al-Haq as well as Ahmed Abu Artema, Dr. Omar Al-Najjar, and others, and we were represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Five days after I testified, the presiding judge, George W. Bush–era appointee Jeffrey White, found it plausible that Israel is committing genocide; however, he ultimately decided that he was powerless to review foreign policy decisions, calling it the most difficult judicial decision he’s ever made.

“It is every individual’s obligation to confront the current siege in Gaza, but it [is] also this Court’s obligation to remain within the metes and bounds of its jurisdictional scope,” he wrote in his decision. “There are rare cases in which the preferred outcome is inaccessible to the Court. This is one of those cases.”

The appeal is now scheduled to be heard on June 10.

Although I knew the case would be an uphill battle, I testified to make a record of Israel’s horrific slaughter of my family, the displacement and dispossession and starvation of the surviving members, the deliberate destruction of my hometown and everything that sustains life there, and ethnic cleansing targeting my people.

I testified because I promised my surviving family members in Gaza—all of whom are enduring unspeakable conditions—that I would do everything in my power to advocate on their behalf, and because it is my prerogative but also my moral imperative, as a human being, as an American, and as Palestinian, residing in a country that is aiding and abetting a genocide.

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During the hearing, Judge White, citing the gravity of the matter, granted uninterrupted testimony to me and others; and he overruled every objection by the defense to expert testimony from the noted genocide and Holocaust scholar Barry Trachtenberg, affirming that Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to the crime of genocide. As he wrapped up the trial, he concluded by looking us each in the face and telling us we had been seen and heard—a crucial validation by a government figure at a time when President Biden was denying our deaths and suffering, aiding in manufacturing consent by parroting debunked, incendiary Israeli disinformation, and greenlighting genocide.

As the case heads to appeal, it remains significant and historic for several reasons. First and foremost, it marks the first time a sitting US president has been found to be providing support for what Judge White called “a plausible case of genocide” and a military siege that is “intended to eradicate an entire people.” In his ruling, Judge White implored the defendants—President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin—to examine the results of their “unflagging support” and its human rights implications.

The case also marks the first time a US court has heard extensive “uncontroverted” testimony (in the court’s words) by Palestinians about the Nakba (“catastrophe”), the term Palestinians use to describe their forced expulsion from their homeland during the establishment of Israel in 1948, and about what we refer to as the ongoing Nakba in Gaza.

The Biden administration, for its part, continues to argue that federal courts do not have jurisdiction to review matters of foreign policy. It also continues to insist it is not responsible for any harm done to innocent civilians in Gaza and that Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza.

Instead, the administration has continued to arm and fund Israel’s military (the quantity of bombs dropped on Gaza has now surpassed the amount dropped on Dresden, London, and other cities during World War II, by some estimates); and it has insisted on providing unwavering diplomatic and political support by vetoing UN cease-fire resolutions and calling the ICC’s arrest warrant applications of Israeli leaders “outrageous,” among other things, all while Israel has committed grave war crimes.

It has done so even when Israel has flagrantly violated the rare conditions the administration has attempted to impose on Israel’s onslaught. In mid-May, Biden went ahead with a $1 billion arms sale to Israel even after he himself said that Israel was engaged in the “indiscriminate bombing” and that American weapons were used to kill civilians in Gaza, a damning admission of guilt if there ever was one.

As ordinary citizens, we are left wondering how we can hold the systems that have allowed this to happen accountable if they are beyond judicial oversight.

As a Palestinian, I struggle to balance the disgust and impotence I feel knowing that my tax dollars are being used to kill my family members in Gaza with an urgency to do everything in my power to demand an end to this administrations complicity in genocide.

The appeals court has a constitutional obligation to hear my claim that top US officials have failed to prevent—and are complicit in—Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza and the most well-documented, deliberate destruction of a society in recent history.

I urge them to see that breaking the law—and aiding and abetting genocide—cannot, and should never be, a mere matter of policy.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

Laila Elhaddad

Laila Elhaddad is an award-winning author and journalist. She is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Austin for their failure to prevent and complicity in Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

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