Comment & analysis

UK, US and EU must halt arms sales to Israel or risk complicity in potential war crimes

5 December 2023

Saferworld unequivocally condemns the killing of over 15,000 Palestinians in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank and the detention of thousands of people in the territories since 7 October by the Israeli military. We equally unequivocally condemn the killing of over 1,200 Israelis by Hamas in the attacks of 7 October and its detention of an estimated 240 hostages. All parties should cease targeted and indiscriminate attacks which kill and injure civilians, release hostages and political prisoners, and must be held to account for violence against civilians and for the violation of their rights. 

The disproportionate response of the Israeli Government since 7 October – which has included indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas in Gaza and infrastructure including schools and hospitals, collective punishment through the denial of food, fuel and water, and the forced displacement of 1.8 million people from the north of the territory, compounded by further displacement in the south following the resumption of military activity – is creating severe trauma for Palestinians both individually and collectively and massive ongoing humanitarian suffering. UN Special Rapporteurs and international law and human rights experts have warned there is a grave risk of genocide. In the West Bank, Palestinians are facing an acceleration of violence with over 250 people killed in raids by the Israeli Defence Forces or in attacks by Israeli settlers, and over 3,500 detained. 

Saferworld urgently calls for the UK, US, EU and other supplier states to halt all arms transfers and military assistance to the Israeli Government, and to end all forms of support for the current aerial bombardment, ground incursion and siege of Gaza. The strong likelihood that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, puts the UK, US and other supplier states at risk of complicity in war crimes and in the creation of a humanitarian catastrophe for 2.3 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza, if any of the military equipment they are supplying has been used by Israel in Gaza or to enforce the siege. 

Israel’s control of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank is recognised under international law to be a military occupation, and Palestinian civilians in Gaza have been living under a blockade for the last 16 years. UN Special Rapporteurs and Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch consider the situation to be apartheid, a crime against humanity. 

Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, is considered a proscribed terrorist group by the UK, US and the EU, and can not therefore be in receipt of legal arms transfers. The Hamas attacks have caused severe trauma for Israelis, including hostages and their families, and on the country as a whole – which is still facing indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. There should be an independent and impartial investigation into the attacks of 7 October and the group should be held to account for the deliberate mass killing of civilians, hostage-taking, and for its continued indiscriminate attacks, all of which are considered serious breaches of international humanitarian law, potentially amounting to war crimes. Any states supplying Hamas with military support, such as Iran, also risk being complicit in war crimes. 

The UK and all EU Member States are States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, which prohibits arms transfers where there is a clear risk that they will be used to commit or facilitate serious breaches of international humanitarian law. This commitment is also reflected in EU and national arms transfer control regimes. The US Conventional Arms Transfer policy commits the US to ‘preventing arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.’   
Saferworld calls on the UK, US, EU and other states to push for an immediate ceasefire and lifting of the current siege on Gaza, and to immediately halt all arms transfers and military assistance to Israel – including by suspending deliveries under extant authorisations and denying new arms transfer applications. This cessation should remain in place until potential suppliers have full confidence that Israel is not in breach of international law and will not be in breach in future, on the basis of a thorough, independent assessment of the conduct of Israeli forces and pending a profound and sustained change in Israeli government policy towards resolving the decades-long conflict with the Palestinian people. 

Addressing the root causes of conflict, in particular the Israeli occupation and violent structural discrimination against Palestinians, is necessary for a just and peaceful resolution. Research shows that large-scale military offensives and heavy-handed counter-terror responses rarely achieve long-term security and more often incite further cycles of violence. 
Saferworld stands in solidarity with nonviolent movements in Palestine, Israel and across the world seeking a just and sustainable peace, and urgently calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire.    

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