Last summer, I marched in the streets of London along with tens of thousands of others in a collective expression of grief and anger as Israeli bombs rained on Gaza from air and sea. Each morning I woke up devastated to hear the updated death counts: hundreds and then thousands of Palestinians killed in their homes, streets, hospitals and schools. No time to flee and nowhere safe to go. Our outrage was focused at the callous Israeli regime, but also at the UK government for its failure to condemn the bombings.
Mass protest in response to a massacre like the one we saw last summer has become far too routine. As we marched and chanted, I remembered a similar scene in 2006, 2009 and 2012. While protests at least provided a space for some venting, I couldn’t help but wonder—should I expect to be here chanting the same slogans again in a couple of years?
In the four months directly following the summer attacks, the UK licensed £4 million of arms exports to Israel. So while our streets swelled with opposition to the brutal attacks, it was business as usual when it came to the UK and Israel trading weapons.
This figure and others can be found in a new report, ‘Arming Apartheid’, published by War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The report details the UK’s complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people, with a specific focus on the multi-million pounds’ industry that is the UK-Israel arms trade.
UK Exports to Israel
The UK is one of Israel’s most reliable suppliers of weapons components used in the brutal occupation. Since 2010, the UK government has approved more than £53 million worth of export licences to Israel for military goods. In 2014 alone, the value of licences awarded for export to Israel amounted to £11,615,840 for military use and £28,992,833 for dual use.
In the six months before Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in 2014, licensed items included combat aircraft components, drone components, anti-armour ammunition and weapon night sights, items almost certainly used in the attacks. The weapons Israel receives from the UK are not only used in its Gaza bombing campaigns, but in the day-to-day maintenance of the occupation as well.
These deadly exports continued to gain approval from the UK government, despite explicit knowledge that the weapons are used in Israel’s repression of Palestinians and to maintain its Occupation, against international law and in contravention of the UK’s own criteria for export licensing.
Israel’s ‘Field Tested’ Technologies
It is not only exports to Israel that help it enforce Apartheid. The UK is also a highly valued client of the Israeli arms industry. The UK government not only buys Israeli weapons technology, but consistently provides a platform for Israeli arms companies to market their weapons at arms fairs here in the UK.
As the horror unfolded and the death toll mounted in Gaza last July, Israeli weapons companies such as Elbit Systems were busy boasting about their ‘field tested’ weapons at the Farnborough International arms fair. Whether it is drones technology or communications and security systems, Israel’s’ systematic violence against Palestinians is the military’s main purpose. It’s also one of its biggest industries.
So long as the UK government continues to conduct this arms trade with Israel, what motivation is there for Israel to change its apartheid policies and put an end to its illegal occupation? Symbolic gestures of support for Palestinian human rights or mealy-mouthed condemnations of settlements by the UK mean nothing when at the same time it is arming this brutal regime. This is why we are calling for an immediate two-way arms embargo against Israel, and asking our friends and allies to join us in putting pressure on the UK government and arms producers to end this horrendous trade in death.
In the face of powerful arms companies and stubborn governments it can be hard to imagine a successful campaign to stop arming Israel. But we know that popular pressure works. Last summer UK MPs were inundated with thousands of emails, letters and phone calls demanding they speak out against UK complicity. Some did. However, this campaign needs sustained pressure so that those elected to represent us do far more than simply make a statement when pushed to do so.
Pressure can be applied in many ways. Last year a handful of activists occupied the roof of Elbit’s factory in Shenstone for days, successfully shutting down its operations. This is part of a wider targeting of over 100 arms companies in towns and cities across the UK that continue to manufacture weapons components shipped to Israel.
On 6 July this year, we will return to that site again to protest at the factory. We want to send a clear message that we will not rest until the arms trade ends.
Stop Arming Israel: Responding to the BDS Call
We are always ready to take to the streets, to raise our voices and march for justice but let’s not wait for the next batch of Israeli bombs to rain down on Gaza. Collectively we can take action right now to stop the UK-Israel arms trade.
This week marks the ten-year anniversary of the inspiring Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) call from Palestinian civil society. Responding to the call means standing for justice by calling on our own governments and institutions to end their complicity with Israeli Apartheid.
Until now, many BDS campaigns have focused on the boycott and divestment, and there are (unfortunately) plenty of opportunities for us to undertake boycotts and divestments in relation to the arms trade. Particularly after last summer though, our way to mark [email protected] is to advance our campaigns through stepping up to a call for sanctions. The case is clear and there is already popular support for it, now we need to focus on our long-term strategy for a global #StopArmingIsrael campaign.
Visit us online to download or order a copy of our ‘Arming Apartheid’ report, take action and to find out more about our Stop Arming Israel campaign.