Why David Cameron's government has blood on its hands over Gaza
Even if and when a full arms embargo is imposed on Israel, this alone will not be enough – a boycott and sanctions campaign are needed until it complies with international law
Two weeks ago, nine of us from the London Palestine Action network travelled to the village of Shenstone in Staffordshire and occupied the roof of an Israeli-owned drone engine factory. We closed the factory down for two days before being arrested.
The factory is owned by Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons company, and manufactures engines for a type of drone called Hermes, which has, according to Human Rights Watch, been used in attacks that killed Palestinian civilians and in incidents that may have been war crimes.
The factory is also a fundamental part of the Watchkeeper programme, under which Elbit Systems is leading production of a new generation of drones for the UK military that is modelled on the Hermes drone. Elbit uses the murderous impact of its weapons for profit, marketing the drones as “field-tested” – in other words, proven to successfully kill Palestinians with nowhere to run. The UK government is importing technology that has been developed through the course of Israel’s military operations against Gaza.
A recent report by the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights stated that almost 2,000 people, including 456 children, had been killed during Israel’s latest assault on Gaza. This death toll is set to rise after the collapse of the ceasefire on Tuesday evening. Countless have been left injured. Hospitals and UN schools have been attacked by the Israeli military. Mosques, universities and untold numbers of homes have been demolished.
As has so often been the case, the international community has done nothing to prevent the aggression by Israel, a state with the world’s fourth largest military. In the words of Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, the world stands disgraced.
By allowing the export of drone engines and other military equipment to Israel, the UK government is aiding and abetting Israel’s actions. The government itself in effect admitted this when it acknowledged that British-made components were almost certainly used during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-9.
Since then, government policy towards arming Israel has not changed. However, hundreds of thousands of people in the UK have long recognised that Israeli aggression lies at the heart of the situation. This has been the message that Palestinians who suffer under Israel’s colonial regime have been trying to communicate for decades. They can no longer be ignored.
Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation because of the UK’s “indefensible” policy on Gaza, and calls for a reduction in arms sales to Israel from Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Andrew Mitchell are novel coming from the mouths of government ministers, but so far they remain empty rhetoric.
The government recently announced that it would suspend 12 of the arms export licences for Israel if the recent ceasefire did not hold. Now that the ceasefire has broken, the UK government cannot shirk its responsibility. Any backtracking on its pledge to take action if the ceasefire breaks down will mean that David Cameron and the rest of his government will have more blood on their hands.
But given the scale of the UK-Israel military trade, which included £185m worth of military exports to Israel in the period 2008-12, the UK government must go further than suspending just a fraction of the currently active export licences. What is needed is a full two-way military embargo on Israel. Without this, the UK’s complicity in Israeli militarism will continue to put us all to shame.
When those in power stay silent in the face of crimes against humanity, and indeed facilitate them, ordinary people must take direct action and put serious pressure on the UK government to stop arming Israel.
All nine of us have been charged with aggravated trespass. On Wednesday morning we pleaded not guilty. As some of our supporters, including Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, have pointed out, the real criminals are those who sell weapons to Israel.
Even if and when a full arms embargo is imposed on Israel, this alone will not be enough. We support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to isolate Israel in the manner of apartheid-era South Africa until it complies with international law.
Issued by a coalition of Palestinian civil society groups in 2005 and rapidly gaining traction, the BDS call urges people of conscience around the world to show their solidarity by refusing cultural, academic and economic ties with Israeli institutions and businesses. Heed their call.
• This article was written by Hilary Aked, Naiara Bazin, Charlie Deas, Maya Evans, Ewa Jasiewicz, Joseph Lee, Adie Mormech, Jessica Nero and Sami Wannell
Source: The Guardian