On Gaza, Biden is Violating International Law

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“If I must die, you must live to tell my story,” wrote Dr. Refaat Alareer, a 44-year-old Gazan poet and literature professor. A few weeks later, Alareer was killed while sheltering in his sister’s apartment, along with six family members.

In the densely populated Gaza Strip, the loss of life is staggering. Israel’s two-month bombardment has killed at least 18,000 Palestinian civilians there, including nearly 9,000 children. Another 25,000 children have lost one or both of their parents.

President Biden has repeatedly assured the public that Israel is following international law. Yet Israeli forces have deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians and civilian infrastructure, in direct violation of international humanitarian law. With 90 percentof those killed in Gaza being civilians, only now is Biden finally admitting that Israel is bombing “indiscriminately.”

Homes, hospitals, schools, mosques, churches, refugee camps, and government buildings have all been reduced to rubble. Israeli troops have forced Palestinian men to strip and parade through the streets. There are disturbing eyewitness allegations of torture and summary executions of civilians.

Palestinian human rights groups and many international experts, including Israeli scholars of the Holocaust, have warned that Israel’s actions meet the legal standard of genocide.

Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide as specific acts taken “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.” Some of these acts include “killing members of the group,” “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,” and “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

The mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza’s schools, medical facilities, shelters, and residential areas are all evidence of likely genocidal acts. As are the forced relocation of over 1 million Palestinians out of northern Gaza and Israel’s frequent bombing of civilian evacuation routes.

Meanwhile, Israel has intensified its complete siege of Gaza, depriving Palestinians of food, water, electricity, fuel, and medical supplies. Starvation and infectious disease are rampant. Gaza’s health care system has “completely collapsed” from ongoing Israeli strikes, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Proving genocidal intent can often be difficult. However, experts have pointed to dehumanizing statements by Israeli leaders that hint at it — including calling Palestinians “human animals” and “children of darkness.”

Others are more explicit. An Israeli lawmaker called for a “Nakba” — an Arabic reference to the violent mass displacement of Palestinians — “that will overshadow the Nakba of 1948.” The defense minister declared “we will eliminate everything” in Gaza. And a recent investigation by the Israeli +972 Magazine found that Israel’s bombing of non-military targets is “calculated.”

Many experts believe these actions and statements of intent are evidence of an unfolding genocide. Due to the crime’s gravity, all parties to the Genocide Convention — including the U.S. —  have a legal duty to prevent it from the moment they learn of a serious risk that a genocide will be committed.

Instead, the U.S has vetoed UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions and expedited lethal arms to Israel on top of the annual aid we already provide. Far from preventing a genocide, a lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights argues, the U.S. is complicit in one.

The October 7 attacks by Hamas fighters on Israeli civilians were reprehensible crimes, but they don’t provide legal or moral justification for the collective punishment of Gazan civilians. Nor can genocide ever be justified.

No government is above the law and free to commit mass slaughter. The U.S. government often claims to stand for justice and the rule of law. But is it willing to stand by those principles for the Palestinian people?

At this dire moment, with the world watching, the U.S. not only has the ability but the obligation to secure a permanent ceasefire and save innocent lives.

Farrah Hassen, J.D., is a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona.