Apartheid Arms: Why Israel Sells Military Equipment to Human Rights Violators

According to Amnesty International, over the past 20 years, Israeli military exports went to at least eight countries that have been known for serious violations of human rights,. (Photo: via MEMO)

By Mohamed Mohamed

An in-depth report released in Hebrew by Amnesty International’s Israeli chapter provides a damning picture of Israeli arms exports to countries that violate human rights. This report provides solid evidence that over the past 20 years, Israeli military exports went to at least eight countries that have been known for serious violations of human rights:

  • Azerbaijan – which has persecuted government critics and LGBTQ people – received Israeli battleships, anti-tank missiles, attack drones, military vehicles, and radar systems
  • Cameroon – implicated in kidnappings, torture, and murder – received Israeli military training and armored vehicles
  • Mexico – undergoing a severe human rights crisis and forced disappearances – received Israeli spyware software that targeted journalists, human rights lawyers, and anti-corruption activists
  • Myanmar – which has engaged in ethnic cleansing, genocide, and crimes against humanity – received armored vehicles and naval ammunition
  • Philippines – which carried out mass extrajudicial executions – received Israeli assault rifles, machine guns, and anti-tank guided missiles
  • South Sudan – implicated in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – received Israeli surveillance technology and assault rifles
  • Sri Lanka – which was engaged in a brutal civil war – received Israeli drones and battleships
  • United Arab Emirates – which has imprisoned government critics and human rights activists – received Israeli spyware software, including the infamous “Pegasus” spyware (just days ago, NSO, the Israeli company behind Pegasus, was linked to a security exploit targeting WhatsApp that allowed Pegasus to be installed)

What is worse is that some of these countries were under international sanctions and weapons sales embargoes, yet Israel continued to sell arms to them.

For example, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan due to its acts of ethnic cleansing, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even using mass rape as a method of war. Yet South Sudan still ended up acquiring Israeli-made assault rifles. Part of this is due to the fact that Israeli weapons reach such countries after a chain of transactions, which helps to avoid international monitoring and decrease transparency.

Israeli authorities claim that they “carefully examine the state of human rights in each country before approving export licenses for selling them weapons,” but the fact that Israeli weapons made it to the countries mentioned above proves that this statement is far from the truth.

But this information is neither new nor shocking. As Jonathan Cook wrote in 2013, “despite having a population smaller than New York City, Israel has emerged in the last few years as one of the world’s largest exporters of weapons.”

At the time, analysts placed Israel as the sixth top producer of weapons, ahead of China and Italy. When accounting for covert weapons deals, Israel was even considered to be the fourth top producer, ahead of Britain and Germany.

Of course, much of these military sales were made possible at the expense and lives of Palestinians. A significant reason why Israeli weapons are so marketable is because they are presented as “battle-proven.” In other words, they were tested on Palestinians.

As Miko Peled wrote last year, an Israeli weapons manufacturer marketed its unmanned armored personnel carrier as “combat-proven” at the “Israel Unmanned Systems 2014” conference, since the 2014 war on Gaza was the first time that such a remote-controlled carrier had been successfully deployed.

And as Rania Khalek has mentioned, “Palestine has long served as a laboratory for Israel’s ballooning ‘homeland security’ industry to test and perfect weapons of domination and control, with disenfranchised and stateless Palestinians serving as their lab rats.”

And as Bloomberg noted, the price of stock of Elbit Systems, one of the largest manufacturers of Israeli military technology, surged to its highest level since 2010 during the 2014 war on Gaza. This was surely no coincidence. It is also uncoincidental that the 2010 high peak of Elbit’s stock was not long after the end of the 2009 war on Gaza.

Clearly, waging war on Palestinians is a huge money-maker for the state of Israel, its corporations, and even its citizens (Cook cites data that around 6,800 Israelis are actively engaged in exporting arms, and former defense minister Ehud Barak admitted that 150,000 Israeli households – around 10 percent of the population – depend on the weapons industry).

One can look no further than to the comments of Avner Benzaken, who was head of the “Technology and Logistics Branch” of the Israeli “Defense” Forces:

“If I develop a product and want to test it in the field, I only have to go five or 10 kilometers from my base and I can look and see what is happening with the equipment. I get feedback, so it makes the development process faster and much more efficient. “

Essentially, Benzaken is glad that he has such a convenient space to test Israeli weapons. He all but confirms that Palestinians serve as “lab rats” for these weapons systems.

The report highlighting Israel’s export of arms to countries violating human rights is troubling, but it is not surprising. Israel claims to be a democracy, but this is in name only. In fact, Israel belongs to the same club of prolific human rights violating regimes that it sells weapons to.

More than 71 years ago, Israel forcibly seized Palestinian land and expelled more than 750,000 Palestinians. To this day, nearly all of them have been denied the right to return to their homes, and the ones who managed to stay are now treated as second class citizens in the state of Israel. This reality was reinforced legally with the recent racist Israeli “nation-state” law of 2018.

For 52 years, Israel has maintained a cruel military occupation of Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and it has imposed full control over all aspects of their lives. Palestinians in the West Bank have severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, on access to their own land, on access to basic resources such as water and other natural resources, to religious sites, telecommunications, and they are subject to theft of their land and to violence and harassment by Israeli settlers.

And of course, Israel has imposed a vicious and near-total blockade of Gaza for almost 12 years now. Almost all of Gaza’s water is undrinkable, it has only a few hours of electricity per day, it is unable to import even the most basic food and other necessities, its fisherman and farmers cannot work without risking their lives, and it is always at risk of being savagely bombarded by Israel.

With all these factors in mind, is it surprising that Israel would sell military equipment to human rights violators? Of course not, because Israel is one of them. As the saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Israel will only change its behavior if world powers, particularly the United States, imposed sanctions against it as was done in 1986 against South Africa. Otherwise, it will continue to act in an apartheid-like manner toward Palestinians, and it will continue to support and profit off of oppressive regimes like itself.

– Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund & Palestine Center in Washington DC. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at Dallas, where he majored in Political Science and completed his senior thesis on statelessness and its practical implications on Palestinians living in the refugee camps of Lebanon. He also earned an M.A. in International Relations and an M.S. in International Political Economy. His articles have appeared on Arab America, Electronic Intifada, Hindustan Times, Mondoweiss, and has been interviewed on various international outlets. Follow him on Twitter at @mykm47. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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