Under pressure: how long will it take Ministers to stop arming Israel?
Just how long will the UK Government take to decide on whether or not the UK should be arming Israel? We know that Ministers have been reviewing arms licences for many days, and still they ponder.
With 1,814 Palestinians killed and nearly 10,000 injured, any delay is indefensible. Casualties are mounting due to the many injuries and the punishing blockade. It’s clear there needs to be a comprehensive UN arms embargo and on all sides: Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups.
Ban Ki-moon has called the latest attack on a UN school a ‘gross violation of international law’. International condemnation is growing – Spain has already suspended all arms sales to Israel - and you’ve sent over 42,600 letters (and counting) to the Foreign Secretary. And still, they ponder.
Parliamentary pressure from all sides of the political spectrum is increasing. Baroness Warsi has resigned stating ‘until those who've been alleged to have committed war crimes over the last few weeks are brought to justice then we must stop selling arms to Israel’. Nick Clegg has also called for arms exports to Israel to be suspended, and Ed Miliband has said that the prime minister's ‘silence’ on events was ‘inexplicable’ .
And still we wait for Ministers to make a decision. All of this is in stark contrast to David Cameron’s speed in imposing a full arms embargo on Russia, given its role in supporting the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.
It’s time to walk the walk
Only in April we were congratulating the UK government for its global leadership by ratifying the UN Arms Trade Treaty. William Hague stated that ‘this Treaty will help make the world safer, by placing human rights and international humanitarian law at the heart of decisions about the arms trade’
We saw the government then strengthen its own criteria on arms exports, human rights and international law. It introduced strengthened rules on UK obligations under international law and new rules on preventing armed violence against women and children. Indiscriminate attacks in Gaza by the IDF have led to 408 children and 214 women killed so far. 2,877 children have been injured – this cannot be justified, rationalised or covered up.
Those rules and the Arms Trade Treaty are clear: transferring any equipment that risks fuelling war crimes must be immediately stopped, without condition and without qualification. To do anything else makes the UK directly complicit in war crimes and in clear breach of the rules contained within the Arms Trade Treaty.
With direct sales from the UK to the Israeli Defense Forces, it’s not just a risk. It’s almost certain they will have been used in the current conflict.
We aren’t asking the UK government to do anything that they have not already, publically and on multiple occasions, committed to do.
The comments from Nick Clegg and Vince Cable hinting at a stronger UK response on UK arms sales are reassuring, but even here there is room for interpretation. Freezing supplies to the Israeli military sounds very tough, but in reality it could fall far short of the total embargo we have been calling for.
When, or if, an announcement is finally made, it will need serious scrutiny. Our biggest concern is that the Government may only stop a very few licences going directly to the Israeli military – which is reportedly only a small fraction of our overall UK arms sales to Israel.
Will they also stop the millions of pounds worth of components for drones, combat aircraft, military vehicles, missile systems and targeting equipment to the Israeli defence industry?
And beyond direct sales to Israel, will they also stop the components for F16s and other weapons supplied to Israel via the USA? The previous Labour government specifically changed the rules to allow indirect sales to take place. These loopholes are still in place, and make it almost certain that UK components are in attack aircraft that have been raining bombs down onto women and children in Gaza.
Selling to the sellers who sell to the Israeli Defense Forces
The UK government can’t rely on its traditional mantra of claiming that the weapons it sells to Israel are not facilitating war crimes.
It’s clear that the UK remains a significant supporter of the Israeli defence industry who in turn directly supplies the IDF, facilitating its campaign of disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks. The UK has previously strongly defended such sales on the grounds that they are not sold directly to the Israeli military and therefore won’t be used by them.
But we know that UK rarely physically checks the ‘end use’ of the arms we supply. That could mean that components for, say, drones originally for sale by Israel to other countries, could find their way above Gaza.
It also sends a strong political message that no matter what, the UK will staunchly support and help maintain the Israeli defence sector, bolstering Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks by strongly supporting the military and industrial base that supplies it.
The UK government is not short of pressure, commitments, rules and rhetoric on preventing weapons getting into the hands of those who will use them to commit war crimes. What we need now is action!
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.