Palestinian Americans sue Biden administration over 'unequal' evacuation efforts in Gaza

Palestinian Americans sue Biden administration over 'unequal' evacuation efforts in Gaza
US Palestinians, who have family still stuck in Gaza, are suing the Biden administration over unequal evacuation efforts compared to US citizens in Israel.
3 min read
15 December, 2023
The Palestinian American families are asking the Biden administration to offer the same evacuation efforts the US did to its citizens in Israel [Getty]

Two Palestinian American families have sued the Biden administration, claiming the government has not done as much to evacuate their US relatives stuck in Gaza as it did for Israeli dual nationals.

In the days following 7 October, the US government organised charter flights from Tel Aviv to Europe to help Americans leave Israel after many airlines cancelled service to the country.

The State Department says it has helped around 1,300 US Palestinians leave Gaza and escape Israel's relentless bombardment - in part by coordinating their exit to neighbouring Egypt with Israeli and Egyptian authorities.

But the United States has not taken steps to organise dedicated flights or otherwise help secure the exit of an estimated 900 US citizens, residents and family members who remain trapped in Gaza, the American families suing the government say.

They say this violates their constitutional rights.

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"There is more that the US government can do and they are choosing not to do it for Palestinians," Yasmeen Elagha, who has family stuck in Gaza and helped organise the lawsuit, said in an interview.

The State Department declined to comment on pending litigation but a spokesperson said the department is working to get more Americans and family members out of Gaza.

The White House referred questions on the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which did not immediately comment.

Israel's military campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip has killed over 19,000 Palestinians - mostly women and children - in just over two months. According to UN estimates, up to 85 percent of the 2.3 million people in the densely populated enclave have been displaced from their homes.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in US District Court in Indianapolis, accuses the federal government of failing to protect US citizens in an active war zone and denying equal protection to Palestinian Americans, a right under the US Constitution.

The suit seeks to force the government to begin evacuation efforts and secure the safety of its citizens "on equal terms to other noncombatants in the same war zone".

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Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Elagha's cousins, Borak Alagha and Hashem Alagha, US citizens who were studying engineering in the Palestinian coastal enclave.

Americans listed by the United States as wanting to leave Gaza at the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing must be approved by both Israel and Egypt.

The three Americans cited in the lawsuit have not been cleared to leave, said Elagha, who lives near Chicago.

Maria Kari, a lawyer with the Arab American Civil Rights League who represents the plaintiffs, said her organisation filed about 40 lawsuits in the first month of the conflict on behalf of Palestinian dual nationals.

"We're simply asking the Biden administration to do something it already did for a class of citizens in the same war," she said.