Arms trade with Israel: embargo all military deals now

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK published a briefing paper entitled Arms trade with Israel: embargo all military deals now in November 2011. This is a welcome addition to a growing body of research detailing the linkages between European and Israeli arms exporters and security forces.

As Friends, we want an end to arms manufacturing and arms trading per se. This position is one that is unrelated to any specific conflict or any specific point in history. The manufacture of weapons creates a demand for armed conflict. Otherwise no-one could make money from manufacturing these things.

But it is especially important to put constraints on arms trading with countries that are engaged in active conflict. Clearly, Israel falls into that category.

The EU has an arms export control regime. This sets out the criteria which Member States should consider when deciding on whether or not to grant an arms export licence. The criteria are set out in COUNCIL COMMON POSITION 2008/944/CFSP.

All the criteria are important but here I want to highlight only two:

Criterion Two: Respect for human rights in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country of international humanitarian law.

Under this criterion, Member States considering granting an export licence needs to needs to:

  • deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used for internal repression;
  • exercise special caution and vigilance in issuing licences, on a case-by-case basis and taking account of the nature of the military technology or equipment, to countries where serious violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the United Nations, by the European Union or by the Council of Europe;

Criterion Three: Internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts.

Under this criterion, Member States considering granting an export licence need to  the goods, material or services to be exported would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination.

These two criteria are pretty clear. There should be no question that arms exports to Israel or Palestine should not be considered in the current circumstances.

Yet, as the briefing paper shows that the UK government (and sadly it is not alone among EU Member States in this) does not have a policy to refuse all applications for export licences relating to weapons and arms to Israel. Instead, as the paper says, the UK government policy is that ‘all export licence applications to Israel are considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Export Licensing Criteria.’ (Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt quoted: 10 February 2011).

But it is not just about selling arms to Israel. It is also about cooperation in the development of arms which is at issue and the briefing paper clearly sets out the connections between UK and Israeli manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones); one of the marketing ‘advantages’ that Israeli manufacturers claim is that their equipment is ‘battlefield tested’.  From the point of view of EU based companies cooperating with Israeli companies that is seen as a clear advantage; but from the point of view of human rights and international law this proposition looks a lot different. What is being said is that because there is an ongoing conflict the weapons are tested out on real people who die real deaths. Continuing cooperation in the field of arms trading with Israeli companies is therefore to be implicated directly in the suffering of people in an ongoing conflict.

You might have thought that the EU code of conduct was legally binding with no wriggle-room; but unfortunately it isn’t.

The briefing paper makes 6 clear demands. What they amount to is saying that there should be no cooperation whatsoever between any governments or companies of EU Member States (though in the case of the briefing paper this is focused on the UK) with the government of Israel or any companies which supply the government of Israel with the means of prolonging the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories. That should be so obvious a policy of the 27 Member States of a Union which is based on ‘values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail’ (Article 2, Treaty on European Union). It should be obvious in a European Union which started out as a peace project.

QCEA supports these 6 clear demands and demands that they are heeded by all 27 Member States and by the European Union itself. At EU level, the two key points are that ‘the EU stops cooperation with the Israeli army, military companies, and military-related research and development projects, including joint ventures’ and that the EU makes its code of conduct binding on the Member States.


About Martina Weitsch

Martina worked for Quaker Council for European Affairs as one of two Joint Representatives from 2002 to October 2012. Her main areas of work were the EU role in Palestine/Israel, EU peacebuilding, conflict prevention and crisis management, EU finances, democratic accountability and relations with the European Investment Bank.
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