One year on from Gaza mass slaughter: Britain must stop arming Israel
Last year's bombing of Gaza by Israel created a humanitarian catastrophe; killing 2250 people, including 535 children.
OPERATION Protective Edge may have ended last August, but the period since last summer's assault has been anything but peaceful for the people of Gaza. Since then there have been food and water shortages, the destruction of crops and power cuts by the Israel Electric Corporation.
Last year's bombing created a humanitarian catastrophe; killing 2250 people, including 535 children, and causing widespread and serious damage to Gaza's infrastructure. The reconstruction has been slow, with one report from the Association of International Development Agencies finding that only a quarter of the $3.5bn in aid pledged has actually been delivered.
Electricity has been in short supply, with the only electric plant in the territory being destroyed in the bombardment and offers from Turkey to provide electricity being rejected by Israel. Earlier this week an aid flotilla that had left from Sweden was turned away with the campaigners on board, including a former Tunisian President, being detained.
This backdrop has exacerbated tensions and contributed to a situation that has seen shootings, riots and even signs of ISIS becoming active in the occupied territories. In 2012 a UN report concluded that unless there was serious action then Gaza may no longer be 'liveable' by 2020. Those warnings remain every bit as pertinent today.
Last summer's bombardment was condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and met with widespread opposition across the world.
In the UK hundreds of thousands of campaigners and activists took part in protests and actions to show their support and solidarity with those under fire. One particular focus for anger has been the UK's strong political and military relationship with the Israeli government and Israeli arms companies.
Last August a report from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) found that the UK had approved 12 export licences to Israel for weapons that could have been used in attacks on Gaza. As a result the then Business Secretary, Vince Cable, concluded that the licences should be suspended, but with the weak and unacceptable caveat that this should only be in the event of any 'resumption of significant hostilities.' In effect, the government's policy was that even more people would need to die before anything could be done.
It wasn't the first time that UK-made weapons have been linked to attacks on Gaza. In 2009 the then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said that it was 'almost certain' that UK arms had been used in Israel's Operation Cast Lead attacks. At the time he promised to look at all extant licences and see whether any of them needed to be reconsidered in light of the conflict. Unfortunately nothing changed. As soon as the bombing stopped and the cameras moved-on it was back to business as usual for the UK government and the arms companies that fuel and profit from war.
This time has been no different. Arming Apartheid: UK Complicity in Israel's Crimes Against the Palestinian People, a new report written by David Wearing of the University of London, and published by Campaign Against Arms Trade, War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, shows that the UK government approved licences worth over £4 million worth of arms in the four months immediately after Operation Protective Edge came to an end.
UK arms export controls are meant to work on the basis of a risk assessment. Licences should be not be awarded if there is deemed to be a 'clear risk' that equipment 'might' be used in violation of international humanitarian law or for internal repression. By any reasonable interpretation this should prohibit any future arms sales to Israel.
The government's responsibility doesn't stop at simply administering and signing off on arms sales, it also actively promotes them.
Many of the arms companies that have profited from the bombing and ongoing occupation will be making their way to London this September for the DSEI arms fair, which brings thousands of arms company reps together with delegates from some of the most violent regimes. Elbit Systems, Ferranti Technologies, Instro Precision and Israel Aerospace Industries are among those that will all be in attendance.
Last year, at the height of the attacks, activists occupied a UK factory belonging to Elbit, whose drones have played a central role in attacking Gaza. On Monday 6th of July, Block the Factory and others will be returning for a day of creative action against its complicity in the persecution of Palestinians.
If 2250 dead is not reason enough for the UK to stop arming Israel then what would it take? The UK rightfully does not sell weapons to Hamas, in part because it would increase the likelihood of bloodshed. Yet Israel has repeatedly used UK weapons against innocent civilians and it hasn't had any discernible impact on the government's arms export policy.
The issue goes beyond the immediate humanitarian impact. When the UK sells weapons it not only facilitates future attacks, it also signals approval for the Israeli government and its pursuit of what amounts to the collective punishment and oppression of the people of Gaza. Last year's protests showed that the people of this country do not support this terrible policy, and nor should the government.
Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).