UK: MPs urged to support calls for immediate halt to UK arms sales to Israel

An Israeli army soldier adjusts the tip to a 155mm artillery shell near a self-propelled howitzer deployed at a position near the border with Lebanon in the upper Galilee region of northern Israel on October 18, 2023 © AFP via Getty Images

Private members’ bill - Arms Trade (Inquiry and Suspension) Bill - will be presented to Commons on Monday, with Westminster Hall debate the following day

Move is part of wider call for UK to end ‘complicity’ in Israeli war crimes 

‘We’re urging MPs to stand up for the civilians of Gaza and Israel, and insist that the Government ends this reckless supply of arms to Israel’ - Sacha Deshmukh

MPs are being urged to support calls for an immediate halt to UK arms transfers to Israel, including by backing an Early Day Motion and a new private members’ bill on UK arms exports which is due to be introduced to the House of Commons tomorrow (11 December).

The move is part of growing calls for the UK to distance itself from Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza, which has seen thousands of civilians killed in a matter of weeks, including more than 7,000 children.

Monday’s bill - known as the Arms Trade (Inquiry and Suspension) Bill, which is being brought by backbench Labour MP Zarah Sultana - sets out as its purpose “provision for an inquiry into the end use of arms sold to foreign states to determine whether they have been used in violation of international law; to immediately suspend the sale of arms to foreign states where it cannot be demonstrated that arms sold will not be used in violation of international law; and for connected purposes”.  

Last week’s Early Day Motion, sponsored by SNP MP Chris Law, calls for the Government to immediately halt all transfers of military equipment and technology, including components, to Israel, and to suspend the issuing of new licences. 

The private members’ bill will be followed the next day (12 December) by a Westminster Hall debate (2:30-4:00) on “arms export licences for sales to Israel”, where MPs will have an opportunity to question a Government minister on the issue.

To date, ministers have refused to halt transfers of UK arms and associated military equipment to Israel, including those despatched to the US and used in F-16 fighter jets which are a key part of the Israeli military arsenal. Campaigners say the Government currently exploits a “loophole” in the arms export regulations allowing the UK to supply components for US-made F-16 and F-35 fighter aircraft despite these being used in Israeli military operations in Gaza in which thousands of Palestinian civilians have already been killed (see ‘Incorporation licences’ below).

Last month, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps apparently sought to minimise the importance of UK arms transfers to Israel, saying the quantities were “relatively small”.

There is mounting opposition to the UK’s continued arming of Israel. Last week saw hundreds of people protesting outside defence factories in Brighton, Glasgow, Bournemouth and Lancashire.

Ahead of Tuesday’s debate, Amnesty has produced a detailed four-page briefing for MPs outlining the legal obligations on the UK government to halt arms sales “where there is a clear or overriding risk that such equipment and technology might be used to commit or facilitate a serious violation of international humanitarian law or international human rights law”. 

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said:

“We’re urging MPs to stand up for the civilians of Gaza and Israel, and insist the Government ends this reckless supply of arms to Israel.

“Our arms export system is based on the principle of avoiding the risk of UK weapons being used to commit serious violations of international law - which is what we have in spades with Israel’s welter of indiscriminate attacks in Gaza.

“With every weapon and every piece of military kit the UK sends to the Israeli war machine, the UK is deepening its complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza.

“Enough is enough - we need to stop the flow of UK arms, push for a sustained ceasefire and help bring the carnage in Gaza to an end.”

Last week, a detailed Amnesty investigation showed how two US-made munitions killed 43 civilians - including 19 children - in Gaza on 10 and 22 October. Amnesty has also documented five separate Israeli attacks in Gaza during 7-10 October which caused mass civilian casualties and in some cases wiped out entire families.

‘Incorporation licences’

In previous escalations of the conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories the UK government has acknowledged that a number of UK arms export licences - specifically “incorporation licences” where UK components have been sent to third-country destinations for onward export to Israel - have seen equipment ultimately sent to, and very likely used by, Israeli forces in Gaza. For example, in 2009 the Government acknowledged that components for F-16 combat aircraft, Apache attack helicopters and a variety of naval systems had likely been used in Gaza by the Israeli military. Similarly, in 2014 a UK government review concluded that export licences for military radar systems, combat aircraft and military vehicles had likely seen the equipment being used in a similar fashion.

Ceasefire call

Amnesty is calling for an immediate sustained ceasefire, the release of all remaining civilian hostages, and for Israel to end its illegal intensified blockade of Gaza. Amnesty is also calling for a comprehensive UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other armed groups, that covers the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms and military material, including related technologies, parts and components, technical assistance, training, financial or other assistance. Throughout the current two-month crisis in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Amnesty has called for Israel to lift its crippling - and unlawful - blockade of Gaza, and to allow the International Criminal Court to independently investigate crimes by all parties to the conflict. The ICC should be allowed to address all root causes of this crisis, including Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians.

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