Ruth Tenne: Britain

By Ruth Tenne

In the wake of Israel’s threat of  striking   Iran’s  nuclear facilities and the  recent  earth-scorching  bombardment of Lebanon  (summer 2006 ), the escalating  arming of  Israel   has become a  burning issue . 

Britain’s licensed military exports to Israel nearly doubled   from 12.5 millions in 2004 to 22.5 millions in 2005. The British Government has been consistently selling weapons to Israel such as small arms ammunitions; anti-aircraft guns; armored vehicles; and components for tanks, combat aircraft and missiles.

The global integration of the arms industry means that many companies are involved in arming Israel by making parts for weapons which are assembled elsewhere and "battle-tested" in the Occupied Territories. 

Since 2000 the British Government has used a set of consolidated EU and national criteria for arms export licensing – taking into account the respect for human rights by the destination country. Yet, the number of REJECTED license applications for arms export to Israel  has  fallen from 84 in 2002 to 9 in 2005  irrespective of the fact that  Israel’s   abuse of human rights in the OT  and  the number of Palestinian casualties  has   dramatically increased (Read: "Arming an Oppressor" the Morning Star 16 October 2006).

As part of the ongoing campaign launched recently by “stop arming Israel " I have  written to  my MP (Glenda Jackson) who in turn expressed my concerns in her letter to Kim Howells – a  Foreign Office Minister. His reply, not unexpectedly, was diplomatically couched  and non-committal:

"We are of the view that it is unlikely that the current situation in the region would be improved by the UK imposing an arms embargo on Israel. We are keeping a careful eye on the situation and continue go assess all export license applications rigorously, on  a case by case basis , against our Consolidated European Union and National Arms   Export Licensing Criteria, talking full account of the prevailing circumstances at the time of application and other announced Government policies. Taken  into consideration  is the internal situation of the recipient country; where there is a clear risk of human rights abuses; and the economic sustainability of the recipient country. "

Mr. Howells’ letter  sadly demonstrates  the British Foreign Office’s refusal to acknowledge and act upon  the numerous  reports  by the UN , official bodies and peace organizations  in Israel and  the international community  which   routinely   record  the  human rights abuses and the near collapse of the Palestinian economy  –  the "recipient  country" of Israel’s  economic blockade.  One of those   damning  report was published recently  by  John Dugard-  Special Rapporteur on Human rights  – who concluded his  disturbing findings by stating:

"In these circumstances, the Special Rapporteur can only appeal to the wider international community to concern itself with the plight of the Palestinian people" ( September 2006 )
In comparison to Britain’s growing arms sale to Israel, the value of military-related import from Israel is relatively small (4.4 million in 2003). Yet,  several major Ministry of Defence’s  (MOD)  contracts  which are  placed with European arms manufacturers are essentially  for Israeli designed weapons.  British Aerospace Company – BAE Systems –  purchased from Israel 35,000 rounds of cluster shells before the Iraq war, and door-breaching grenades were imported from the Rafael (Israel’s air missile specialists) for use by the British army in Iraq.   Other major contracts for cooperation and mutual development of electronic and reconnaissance systems   have been signed by Israel and major British companies, such as, Smiths Aerospace, Rada, BAE Systems, and Ultra Electronic.

In spite of  over 30 UN resolutions demanding  the establishment of  nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, Israel is reported  to have over 400 thermonuclear and nuclear weapons  (Jane’s Intelligence Review ,1997) and is refusing to join the Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) of which all Arab states are signatories . The Israeli Government rejected   the UN resolution 487 which called upon her to place its nuclear facilities under the International Atomic Energy Safeguards program. At the same time,  Israel’s threat of   deploying  WMD has significantly increased  by recent acquisitions of a  long-range delivery system which can carry WMD  as well as  small nuclear landmines and strategic  nuclear warheads that could  be fired  from canons  ( Sunday Times 26 March 2006).

The heavy bombardment of Lebanon in July- August 2006 and the continued onslaught on Gaza made British MPs aware of Israel’s increasing threat to the region. The Liberal Democrat Leader- Sir Menzies Campbell – urged Tony Blair to suspend any further arms exports to Israel. (24 July 2006).  Saferworld  -an  independent think -tank against arms trade – recently proclaimed   that  "the violence in the Middle East  is  now alarming and the Government  must now stop all arms sale to Israel".(14 July 2006). 

Members of The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign have been   protesting   locally against the continued arming of Israel.  Angry demonstrations took place in mid-July in Prestwick’s airport near Glasgow which had been used for major shipments of bunker-busting bombs from America to Israel amidst the bombardment of Lebanon. More recently, a day of action took place   in London against DESO -the department which is promoting and licensing export of British military equipment.  A major lobbying of Parliament was organized on 29 November (the date where the partition of Palestine was decided upon by the UN General Assembly). Peace activists from all over Britain demanded   their MPs  to end the arms trade with Israel and to restore  economic aid to the  Palestinians.  A report issued by the Council for Advancing Arab British Understanding (CAABU) demonstrated that 24% of the lobbied MPs supported a British embargo on arms trade while 21% were against it . 55% of the lobbied MPs were, however, undecided.

As could be expected, there was some division along party lines. The majority of support for ending the arms trade with Israel came from Liberal Democrat MPs and the weakest level of support was voiced by Conservative MPs.  Nevertheless, in total, MPs showed an increasing support and interest in Palestinian issues demonstrating a growing belief that the Middle East conflict is relevant to UK interests. Yet , it seems that the  British Government is not prepared  to  take  any  steps for  ending  Israel’s  escalating arsenal  which has been used with impunity against the Palestinians  and Lebanon.

Being an Israeli-born  citizen  I may not be considered as an apparent supporter for  imposing  arms trade embargo and   sanctions  against my own country. Yet , I believe that  the lack of any consorted  action by Western governments  to end the  40 -year long   occupation of Palestinian land  calls for   exercising  a tangible  pressure on the Israeli state. Like many Jewish and Israel peace activists I concur with the words of  Dr Jeff Halper – the  co-founder of Israeli Committee Against House demolitions:

"Sanctions, divestment and boycotting are absolutely legitimate means at everyone disposal for effectively opposing injustice ….they are directed at ending a situation of intolerable conflict ,suffering and moral wrong-doing…When injustice ends, the sanction ends."

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