News & events

UK Working Group on Arms statement on the continuous conflict between Israel and Palestine

9 July 2021 UK Working Group on Arms statement on the continuous conflict between Israel and Palestine

The UK Working Group on Arms (UKWG) welcomes the latest Israel-Gaza ceasefire, bringing temporary but essential relief to those under attack. However, we note that this does nothing to address the underlying causes of the conflict or to end it, and therefore call on the UK government to consider this broader context when setting arms export policy. We recognise that the UK has never approved arms sales to Palestinian armed groups. It has, however, approved the transfer of large quantities of arms to Israel throughout the extended history of the conflict, despite the longstanding risk that equipment might be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

We therefore call on the government to cease the licensing of arms and equipment to Israel immediately, alongside other forms of military cooperation. UK policy on arms sales into conflicts should not be about finding narrow technical and legal justifications for fundamentally problematic transfers. It should be about the protection of civilians and doing everything possible to protect life and dignity. We are very far from that point. We also urge all combatants to observe international humanitarian and human rights law.

The humanitarian and human rights situation throughout the territory controlled by Israel is appalling for Palestinians. The continued theft of land for illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, together with water restrictions, attacks on Palestinians by settlers, with acquiescence from security forces, and collective punishment are well documented. The forced transfer of Palestinians from neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem by Israelis is also a fundamental attack on human rights, while the UN notes that conditions in Gaza are essentially unliveable, with basic services such as electricity, clean water and access to medical treatment unavailable to most Gazans most of the time. Attacks on farmers and fishermen and the blockade of the territory mean most Gazans rely on international aid. Over 200 Palestinians were killed in the recent attacks on Gaza, around half being women and children. This is part of a pattern of many years’ standing, with 3,838 Palestinians recorded killed since 2005. Israel’s longstanding and ongoing policy of discrimination against and persecution of the Palestinian population has recently been described as amounting to the crime against humanity of apartheid by respected human rights organisations such as B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, and by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, following in the footsteps of Palestinian scholars and lawyers.

All of these factors are aspects of a single, continuous conflict in which the humanitarian and human rights situation has deteriorated over years, with actions that may amount to serious violations and grave breaches of IHL and IHRL a constant, and now under investigation as such by the International Criminal Court.

Despite this, Israel is seen by the UK as a strategic security partner. And while on occasion in the past, UK arms export policy to Israel has appeared to tighten somewhat when Israel has launched major attacks on Gaza, it quickly returns to ‘business as usual’ when the level of violence and violations of international law ease, despite the widespread understanding that nothing has been resolved and the high likelihood that conflict will re-escalate at some point in future.

This makes a mockery of the UK’s endlessly repeated claim that it has one of the most stringent arms export control systems in the world. For transfers to Israel, as for a number of other countries in the Middle East, the reality is a decision-making process that is willing to privilege perceived security or economic advantage over the UK’s legal obligations, both domestic and, via the Arms Trade Treaty, international.

Since the 2014 Gaza War, the UK has issued licences approving the transfer of a huge range of military and security equipment to Israel. These have included 834 Standard Individual Export Licences worth £413m, and 47 Open Individual Export Licences which place no upper limits on the quantities or values of arms that may be exported. The UK also has a history of exporting components to the US that have been incorporated into military aircraft subsequently exported to Israel, including - as reported in the Independent - the type of aircraft active in the recent attacks on Gaza.

In light of the consistent and long-standing pattern of conduct by the Israeli security forces operating against Gaza in particular, but also in enforcing the occupation and illegal settlement of the West Bank as well as actions against Arab citizens of Israel, we call on the UK government to immediately halt all UK supplies of military, security and police equipment to Israel, including internal repression goods and technology and training and support services, and to end all other military and security cooperation.

In conclusion, it cannot be acceptable that the UK continues to provide material, and consequently political and moral, support to Israel as it commits acts that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UK must as a matter of urgency cease all such assistance, and encourage others to do the same.

UKWG members for the purposes of this submission include: Oxfam, Saferworld, Amnesty International UK, Action on Armed Violence, Omega Research Foundation, United Nations Association – UK.