A San Francisco law firm filed a federal lawsuit this week against the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Defense on behalf of an 81-year-old Bay Area grandmother stuck in the Gaza Strip amid an escalating Israeli military campaign.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the firm Shamieh, Shamieh & Ternieden and names U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as defendants.
The suit argues that the U.S. government is failing its constitutional duty to bring the U.S. citizen home from a war zone.
"We are urging the United States Government to utilize existing remedies to extricate our clients trapped in Gaza," the firm said in a statement.
A second lawsuit that was being prepared for another Bay Area resident will no longer be filed after she was able to cross into Egypt on Thursday, according to Ghassan Shamieh, the lawyer representing both people.
Shamieh said both clients' identities are being protected for security reasons. The firm released a statement from Dina Bseiso, a Bay Area family member of the client still in Gaza as of Thursday evening.
"Our family is disappointed that the US Government has left one of our own family members stranded in Gaza despite the fact that she is a US Citizen," Bseiso said. "When we are lucky enough to get her on the phone, she tells us how scared she is that by the time she is evacuated, it'll be too late for her. We are demanding that the US government help bring her home."
The lawsuit is one of at least seven federal lawsuits that had been filed nationwide as of Thursday by a coalition of attorneys seeking to facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of American citizens who were caught in the Gaza Strip as Israel began a military response to an attack launched by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 that killed about 1,400 Israelis.
Another roughly 240 people were taken hostage in the attack, including Americans, and efforts are still underway to free them.
Several thousands of Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli response, and hundreds of thousands are displaced, along with foreign nationals and hundreds of American citizens.
The Rafah crossing to Egypt was opened Thursday, letting sizable numbers of foreigners out of Gaza for the first time in nearly a month. Hundreds have reportedly left, but it is unclear how many Americans are among them.
"We are relieved to know that my grandmother has made it into Egypt, and we are continually working to get her home safely to the United States," said Asher Rous, the granddaughter of the client whose lawsuit was not yet filed. "Our hearts remain with the other U.S. citizens who remain stranded in Gaza," said Rous.
The lawsuit "challenges the constitutionality of the U.S. Government's actions/failure to act to protect United States citizens trapped in Gaza, Palestine, an active war zone."
It further alleges that "The State Department has advised both the Arab American Civil Rights League and Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee that it would not engage in evacuation efforts, procedures, and or processes to safely evacuate United States citizens in Gaza. These statements—especially given the ongoing bombardment of the area—constitute final agency action."
The 15-page filing asks the court to order that "The defendants use all resources at their disposal that are necessary and available, including but not limited to deployment of military ships, vessels and airplanes and/or contracting with private commercial ship liners and airline carriers to evacuate U.S. citizens from Gaza and return them safely to the United States or another nation outside of the warzone in the most expeditious manner available."
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