The UK Government Is Being Sued For Its Arms Exports To Israel
The UK is violating its own arms export criteria and, as such, is culpable of heinous war crimes.
The globe is watching in horror as Israel conducts tantamount genocide in Gaza. World leaders (and myself) are in agreeance that Israel has a right to defend itself against heinous atrocities, such as what happened on October 7th. But, the IDF’s actions in the Gaza Strip amount to far more and far worse than defence, with the Gazan civilian death toll rising distressingly rapidly and essential civilian infrastructure being utterly obliterated, while actual Hamas losses are minuscule in comparison. In response, not only have millions of protesters marched in capitals across the world calling for a ceasefire, but the governments closest to Israel, who stood by their suspect actions for decades, are now calling into question this support. Despite this, these governments’ support in terms of actual aid and supply to the Israeli state has been unflattering, even in the face of mass protests, humanitarian groups warnings, and internal tensions. However, for one of the nations, this support might soon be cut off, as it faces a potentially devastating watertight legal battle.
Before discussing this lawsuit, let’s first put this conflict into context. This is crucial to getting a less biased (either way) and more extensive picture of the issues at hand. Only then can we understand the severity of these government’s actions and how serious this lawsuit could be.
This conflict started on October 7th (though, arguably, it is just an extension of a 70-year struggle of the Palestinians) when Hamas attacked Israel. During the attack, 1,200 Israelis were killed, 30% of whom were Israeli military or police, and Hamas took a reported 240 hostages. The apparent goal of this attack was to take hostages to do a hostage swap for Palestinians who were mostly illegally detained by Israel, many of whom are children. What’s more, numerous reports and investigations have found that Palestinians held by Israel are held in inhuman conditions and subject to horrific acts. There are reports that Hamas conducted rapes during the attack. However, these come from the IDF, which has a history of not being reliable, and these reports have yet to be verified by third-party sources. That doesn’t mean they didn’t happen or that this isn’t a severe accusation, just that it can’t yet be considered conclusive. More investigation is needed, and those responsible if this did happen should be held accountable.
What’s more, there are several eyewitness statements of Israelis present on October 7th and published by Israeli media that claim the IDF fired tank shells and helicopter fire at its own civilians during the attack. Again, such claims have yet to be verified. Still, their origin makes them relatively credible, not only from where they were published but because the IDF has a history of killing its own to ensure they can’t be taken as hostages to avoid having to conduct hostage swaps with Hamas. This also means that we can’t say for sure how many of the 1,200 killed can be attributed to Hamas, as there is a possibility that the IDF is responsible for a not insignificant portion of them (particularly as they were using far more deadly weaponry). Again, like the accusations of rape by Hamas, this can’t yet be considered conclusive, and further investigation is needed, and those responsible if this did happen should be held accountable.
Now, there is little question that both Hamas and Israelis have committed war crimes during this conflict. However, the scope and severity of the two are not comparable.
Hamas’s taking of civilian hostages is unarguably a war crime, while the reported rapes during October 7th are war crimes if proven. There is significant and corroborated evidence that the recently released hostages from Hamas seem to have been treated well. However, families of those still kept hostage by Hamas have said the Israeli state has given them “solid evidence” that their health is deteriorating. Again, as these claims come from Israeli intelligence, which has a track record of being biased and misleading, we cannot consider them conclusive, though they warrant further investigation. As such, we can’t yet conclusively say whether Hamas’s treatment of hostages is also a war crime. Either way, the number of victims of Hamas’s war crimes is inherently limited to the 240 hostages they took and their portion of the 1,200 killed on October 7th. This doesn’t reduce the severity of these war crimes, but their scope is essential to understand the charge of disproportionality lobbied against Israel.
Israel has also committed war crimes since October 7th, though their scope and devastation are far more extensive than Hamas’s. There is significant and corroborative evidence that Israel has targeted journalists, medics, ambulances and medical facilities that had categorically no link to Hamas. Each of these amounts to war crimes. Israel’s bombardment of Al-Shifa hospital and the inconclusive and scant evidence they have given to back up their claims Hamas used it as an HQ (which would make it a legal target) could potentially amount to a serious war crime. The IDF’s use of force against its own people during October 7th is a false flag operation if proven, and therefore, a war crime.
But possibly Israel’s worst war crime is its continual targeting of civilians. Between October 7th and Nov 21, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor estimates that Israel has killed over 20,000 Gazans (many still buried under rubble and unaccounted for in official figures). That equates to 1% of the population of the Gaza Strip. Of these 20,000, 9 in 10 are civilians, according to Euro-Med (and corroborated by other sources), with well over half of them women and children. This targeting of civilians is a severe war crime, and a vast plethora of human rights organisations attest to that. As Israel has targeted refugee camps and still blockades exits from Gaza, trapping the population, there is a strong argument that these actions also amount to genocide, one of the most heinous war crimes possible, or collective punishment, which is no less of a war crime.
Now, many have argued that these civilian casualties are collateral damage and happen because Hamas use the Gazan pollution as human shields (which is a war crime also). However, this argument has never held up. The insanely high population density of the Gaza Strip and Israel’s blockade of the territory means that Hamas is forced to operate near civilians. What’s more, many human rights bodies and scholars, such as the well-respected Norman Finkelstein, have shown that Hamas actually operates as far away from civilians as possible and have shown there is no conclusive evidence of them using human shields or vital civilian infrastructure (such as hospital or ambulances) for military purposes.
What’s more, as Finkelstein has repeatedly shown, in the first few days of Israel’s 2012 Pillars Of Defence attack on Gaza, circumstances meant that Israel couldn’t risk Gazan civilian deaths. As such, they used their highly advanced and targeted weaponry to only hit Hamas targets, and the civilian death toll was minimal, proving such collateral damage by Israel is 100% avoidable. Since then, Israel’s ability to conduct targeted warfare has only increased. As such, there is strong evidence that Israel is committing the war crime of purposely and systematically targeting civilians in Gaza.
It is difficult to argue against this, as this war crime is enshrined in their military’s “Dahiya Doctrine”, which encourages asymmetrical warfare and maximum civilian casualties to maximise terror. This disproportionality in comparison to Hamas’s attack is also a severe war crime.
As such, Israel’s war crime rap sheet is far more extensive than Hamas’s in both severity and scale, as it can be argued that over 2 million (the population of the Gaza Strip) have been severely impacted by them.
Even if you disagree with how I have laid out the evidence here (which you are more than welcome to do), the UN Human Rights Council identified “clear evidence” of war crimes by both Hamas and the Israel Defence Force. That is the central crux of this lawsuit.
But where did Israel get their advanced and devastating weaponry to conduct such a wide-scale assault? They possess no real military-industrial complex. Well, they import almost all of it from Western governments like the US, UK and EU countries, and this is where our legal battle comes in.
Three rights groups, the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, and UK-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) have banded together to sue the UK government. The lawsuit is based on one of the UK’s own laws that restrict the sale and licencing of arms to groups who might use them to breach international or humanitarian law. The UK government’s own website states about arms licensing that “Over the last couple of decades the UK, and EU, developed a common set of eight criteria to assess licence applications. These reflect, among other things, the UK’s obligations under international law, and the potential for the items to be used in the violation of human rights.”
Yet, despite clear evidence that Israel has breached such human rights, the UK hasn’t rejected any recent licensing or sales of arms to Israel. GLAN Director Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn poignantly stated in a recent press briefing that Israel’s “indiscriminate attacks on civilians and infrastructure critical for their survival, starvation, forced displacement” and the “risk of genocide” renders them illegible for arms sale and licencing under the UK’s own criteria. These rights groups have repeatedly warned the UK Government of this, but they have been utterly ignored. As such, they turn to using a lawsuit in an attempt to hold the UK government accountable to their own law and reject new sales and licencing of arms to Israel.
But how much arms does the UK provide Israel?
Well, the UK provides 15% of the components of the F35 stealth fighter, which Israel extensively uses to bomb the Gaza Strip indiscriminately. However, the high-precision nature of the munitions used by the F35 calls into question whether these attacks are indiscriminate or purposely targeting civilians. Either way, Israel is misusing the F35 and breaching international and humanitarian law in the process. The total value of F35 components supplied by the UK during 2022 amounts to a whopping $72 million (£58m). As such, the UK should stop the supply of these components to Israel under their own law. As Hamas has no air force, and the F35 isn’t designed to defend against the type of attacks Hamas can conduct, restricting this supply would hold Israel accountable while not undermining their right to defend themselves.
But this issue goes further back than this. The consensus of Israel breaching international and humanitarian law against Gaza goes way back to Israel’s 2008 Operation Cast Lead. But, because their occupation of Palestine past the 1967 borders has been deemed illegal multiple times, even by UN reports headed by Zionist Jews (Goldstone Report), this breach of international and humanitarian law has continued unbroken until today. Yet, between 2018 and 2022, when Israel was proven to still be in breach of these laws, the UK still exported £146 million in arms sales to Israel despite their own laws.
This is why, despite the watertight nature of this lawsuit, it sadly might not work. The UK has a precedent of ignoring this law when it suits them.
You see, even since the Iraq invasion, the UK’s international influence has been as the USA’s pet. They have to maintain this position to retain military strength around the globe and don’t want to threaten this. What’s more, Israel, as the West’s ally, puts pressure on the oil-producing countries near Israel, such as those in the OPEC alliance. As such, support for Israel can be used as pressure to ensure OPEC doesn’t crush the UK’s or the West’s own oil industry. But possibly even more morally corrupt is the $524 billion worth of oil and gas (mainly gas) in Israel’s occupied territories (which legally is owned by Palestine) near Gaza. Not only is Israel trying to establish LNG shipping infrastructure to sell this gas to the UK and EU to replace Russian gas, but also British and American companies, such as BP and Genie, of which many UK politicians and influential media owners are shareholders, are the ones who have the licences to extract it. What’s more, it will be perilous to build such fossil fuel infrastructure in Hamas’s backdoor that they rightfully own (under international law), as it would be very straightforward for them to attack it and render billions of dollars worth of Israeli industry and investment useless (read more about this conflict of interests here).
So you see, the UK government and its leaders have many personal and political reasons to disregard its own laws and undermine this watertight lawsuit.
So, sadly, I don’t think this lawsuit will have any meaningful impact. But this is why I, a white, middle-class English Atheist, am talking about this horrific situation. My tax money and my government attest to representing me are supporting war criminals and the creation of a horrific humanitarian crisis with zero repercussions. A recent report by YouGov indicates that 76 percent of British adult citizens believe a ceasefire should be implemented between Israel and Gaza’s resistance. Yet, the government isn’t lifting a finger to help create it. When my government misrepresents its people to such a heinous degree, with such barbaric and reprehensible consequences as this, staying silent would make me culpable.
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Sources: Euro News, Open Democracy, CAAT, Declassified UK, Gov, Jordan News, PIC, Al Jazeera, HRW, WSWS, AOAV, Times Of Israel, VOX, Will Lockett, BBC, Al Jazeera, Jacobin, The Cradle, Norman Finkelstein, UN, Cranfield University, HRW, Lund University, Planet Earth & Beyond, UNHRC