washington — Two Palestinian American families have sued the Biden administration, saying the government has not done as much to evacuate their U.S. relatives stuck in Gaza as it did for Israeli dual nationals.
In the days after Hamas’ October 7 assault in southern Israel, the U.S. government organized charter flights from Tel Aviv to Europe to help Americans leave Israel after many airlines canceled service to the country.
The State Department says it has helped around 1,300 U.S. Palestinians leave Gaza and escape Israel’s retaliatory bombardment — in part by coordinating their exit to neighboring Egypt with Israeli and Egyptian authorities.
But the United States has not taken steps to organize dedicated flights or otherwise help secure the exit of an estimated 900 U.S. citizens, residents and family members who remain trapped in Gaza, the American families suing the government say.
They say this violates their constitutional rights.
“There is more that the U.S. government can do, and they are choosing not to do it for Palestinians,” Yasmeen Elagha, who has family stuck in Gaza and helped organize 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.
Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in Israeli border communities with Gaza and took 240 hostages during their October 7 assault, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israeli bombardment has killed nearly 19,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. According to U.N. estimates, up to 85% of the 2.3 million people in the densely populated enclave have been displaced from their homes.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis, accuses the federal government of failing to protect U.S. citizens in an active war zone and denying equal protection to Palestinian Americans, a right under the U.S. 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.”
Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Elagha’s cousins, Borak Alagha and Hashem Alagha, U.S. 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 organization 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.