In the past year, the Government licensed the sale of £23m worth of weaponry to Israel. This is a dramatic increase (almost double) on the previous year. Britain seems to have a nice little business going in selling weapons to despotic regimes.
However, under both EU (and UK) law arms cannot be sold to countries where they might be used for internal repression, international aggression, or contribute to regional instability. See Criterion Two and Criterion 4 of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports. So why are we doing it? Well, apparently we have received assurances from Israel that that arms sold to it from the UK would not be used in the occupied territories. Assurances that evidently were not worth the paper they were printed on.
Anyway, it looks as if this cosy business arrangement is about to be disrupted by a Palestinian who is taking the Government to court over the matter.
The government is being taken to court today over the sale of military equipment to Israel including parts for Apache helicopter gunships, laser range finders, and communications equipment.
Saleh Hasan, a Palestinian who lives in Bethlehem, argues that the sales are in breach of the government’s guidelines covering arms exports and are unlawful. The guidelines say exports should be blocked when there is a “clear risk” they “might be used for internal repression”.
Mr Hasan’s lawyers point to comments by Foreign Office minister Kim Howells in the Commons in August that “almost any use of equipment … could be used aggressively, especially in occupied areas”.
They point out that after British military equipment was used in the occupied territories in 2002, Jack Straw, then foreign secretary, said he would no longer take Israeli assurances into account. Mr Howells said that approach “still holds true”.
Michael Fordham QC says in his court challenge on behalf of Mr Saleh that there is also clear evidence of human rights abuses by Israeli forces.
Well, hopefully Mr Hasan will win his case. If he does win, it won’t change facts on the ground, Israel gets most of its weaponry from the USA, but at least Britain will be less complicit in the slaughter of Palestinian civilians. A small victory.
If he looses the case and the UK continues to supply Israel with high-tech weaponry to be used on the civilians of Palestine then that will make a mockery of Tony Blair’s recent rhetoric about solving the Israel/Palestine conflict.