Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Stop arming Israel!

A new campaign is focusing on the arms trade with Israel, targeting both the government and arms manufacturers. James O’Nions reports

September 1, 2006
4 min read


James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.


  share     tweet  

The only time that UK government policy appears to have diverged even slightly from that of George Bush over Israel’s attack on Lebanon was when Margaret Beckett got exercised over US arms being shipped through Prestwick airport in Scotland. The incident in late July, which involved US flights carrying precision bombs on their way to Israel refuelling at the airport, got the new foreign secretary in a rage: it seemed the correct procedures hadn’t been followed.

It was left to anti-war protesters to point out, through demonstrations at Prestwick and a ‘citizen’s weapons inspection’ by Trident Ploughshares, that the real issue is that UK airports continue to be used to transport weapons to Israel at all. Yet if Beckett had followed the Irish government, who refused the aeroplanes permission to use Shannon airport, she would have found herself in a rather odd situation. After all, the US may be a major supplier of weaponry to Israel, but it is by no means the only one.

In 2005, the UK government licensed the export of arms to Israel worth £22.5 million, more than double the figure for 2004. Over the last few years UK companies have supplied bombs, rockets, torpedoes, machine guns, missiles, mines and components for tanks and combat aircraft to the Israeli Defence Forces.

The framework that the government says it uses to judge whether arms export licences should be granted is its ‘Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria’, adopted in 2000. The eight criteria include the buyer country’s respect for international law, its respect for human rights and the preservation of regional peace and stability. Even before the current crisis, Israel was in serious breach of international law, routinely violated the human rights of Palestinians through extra-judicial killings, collective punishments and torture, and through these actions negated any chance of peace.

In fact, if the criteria do not apply in the case of Israel, it is difficult to know when they would apply. Yet rather than simply banning arms sales to Israel as the gravity of the situation should require, the government judges each case individually, saying it turns down licences where the equipment ‘could be deployed aggressively in the occupied territories’.

F-16 fighter planes and Apache combat helicopters have both been used aggressively in the occupied territories to devastating effect, and of course have now been used to bomb southern Lebanon. Given that Israel has taken delivery of both these aircraft, which include significant UK components, since the government’s current policy has been in place, it was no surprise that the parliamentary committee that oversees arms export licensing said in its 3 August report, ‘We do not understand what the policy means.’

Meanwhile, Israel’s attacks on civilians in Gaza and Lebanon have spurred activists to revitalise the campaign for an arms embargo. Stop Arming Israel, a new coalition supported by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and War on Want, is campaigning to halt all arms sales to and from the country.

Israel actually has its own significant arms industry, which in the past has been prepared to sell arms to regimes such as apartheid South Africa when others would not. Now it markets its products as ‘battle-tested’ in the occupied territories, and Israel has become one of the top ten arms-exporting nations. An arms embargo only makes sense, therefore, if it works both ways, and even then its main impact would not be directly to disarm Israel.

Nevertheless, the new coalition believes that the campaign is both important and winnable. As Beccie D’Cunha from CAAT points out, ‘Not only is it important that the UK is not materially complicit in Israel’s abuses, but continuing to sell arms sends a message of approval to the Israeli government which is entirely inappropriate. With so many people watching in horror as the Israeli army destroys southern Lebanon and Gaza, now is the time raise public support to end the arms trade with Israel.’

If the campaign takes off as the coalition hopes, the government may not be the only one to feel the pressure. A whole range of British-based companies make components for F-16s and Apaches, including big firms such as BAE Systems, Smiths Industries and Meggitt Avionics, and a host of smaller engineering companies. They could all become the target for local protests as anti-war activists seek new ways to get their message across.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a former Red Pepper editor. He is the head of activism for Global Justice Now.


Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes