NOVEMBER 19, 2023
BY RAY ACHESON
As bombs continue to pummel Gaza, destroying hospitals and homes, leaving thousands of Palestinians dead and millions displaced, global action to stop the supply of weapons to Israel is an urgent imperative. Fighter jets, missiles, and thousands of bombs are amounting to a devastating level of explosive violence in the densely populated area of the Gaza Strip.
These weapons are instrumental in Israel’s genocidal actions; thus, the governments supplying them are complicit in genocide and other war crimes. And right now, while these same governments continue to pledge support to Israel’s alleged but unlawful “right to self-defense,” ordinary people are undertaking incredible actions to block the production and shipment of weapons.
In the past weeks, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed and injured, most as a result of Israel’s relentless bombing of Gaza. According to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, Israel has dropped more than 25,000 tons of explosives on the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023. In under a week, Israel deployed around 6,000 bombs, almost the same quantity as the United States dropped in Afghanistan over the course of a year.
Airstrikes and missile attacks have so far damaged more than 220,000 housing units, with an estimated 1.5 million people internally displaced. Israel has attacked hundreds of hospitals and healthcare facilities, claiming some are “military targets” because of alleged tunnels underneath used by Hamas. Water and sanitation infrastructure, as well as bakeries and schools have also been destroyed. Humanitarian access to those in need is heavily constrained, and essential resources such as water, food, and medicine are in critically short supply.
This is a typical pattern of harm when explosive weapons are used in populated areas. As Action on Armed Violence has found for years, when towns and cities are bombed, 90% of those killed and injured are civilians. In addition, civilians suffer long-term, life-altering impacts including displacement, disability, psychological harm, gender-based violence, and socioeconomic exclusions and inequalities.
Arms transfers enable genocide
Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza are war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of international law, including incitement to commit acts of genocide. Statements by Israeli officials have made it clear that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” and have called for “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the Earth.” In addition, since October 7 Israel has escalated its repression and collective punishment against the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in Israel.
Yet despite the well-documented and reported grave violations and crimes against the Palestinian population—not just since October 7 but for many years—certain Western governments continue to supply Israel with weapons and other military support. The United States is the largest single provider of military aid to Israel, but Canada, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands are also enabling Israel’s genocide. Collectively, they have made billions of dollars from shipping bombs, guns, and missiles to Israel. Now, the US government is refusing to make publicly available any information about the amount or types of weapons it sending, even as it requests an additional $14.3 billion in military aid for Israel.
A joint statement written by Al-Haq, the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)—and currently signed by 137 organizations—outlines that arms transfers to Israel violate customary international law, including the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful, as well as international humanitarian law, including Common Article 1 to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. For states that are members, arms transfers to Israel also violate the Arms Trade Treaty, the European Union’s Common Position on Arms Exports, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Principles Governing Conventional Arms Transfers.
As the joint statement notes, “It is clear that the continued supply of arms exports and military aid to Israel is in violation of all these obligations. Over the years, unchecked and in many cases arguably internationally unlawful military support to Israel has also enabled, facilitated, and maintained Israel’s decades-long settler-colonial and apartheid regime imposed over the Palestinian people as a whole.” The organizations also warn that states providing weapons to Israel could be charged with complicity in genocide under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
While not legally binding, many states—including those known to be selling weapons to Israel—made a commitment last year to refrain from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Yet now they are enabling Israel to bomb one of the most densely populated areas in the world, undermining their own commitments under this declaration and other political frameworks such as the protection of civilians and safe schools initiatives.
Meanwhile, Israel itself is also a major weapon exporter, ranking tenth in the world in 2022. Israel’s surveillance and cyber technologies are often promoted as having been successfully tested on the Palestinian population in the context of Israel’s long-standing occupation. Its border surveillance tools and other technologies of repression are exported to the United States and European Union for use in the militarization of their borders and police forces. Israel and the United States also engage in exchanges of training of soldiers and police in what Jewish Voice for Peace describes as an “exchange of worst practices”. When countries import weapons from Israel or participate in trainings with Israeli forces, they are also contributing to the oppression and death of Palestinians.
Blockading the weapons
A critical part of ending genocide is to prevent access to the arms and ammunition being used to commit it. This is why the joint statement calls for the imposition of a two-way arms embargo on Israel, to both prevent the export of weapons to Israel, and the import of weapons or other technologies of repression from Israel. The groups that have signed the letter are also calling on all states to end their military cooperation agreements with Israel, including trainings or intelligence operations. In addition, they argue, transit states must refuse to have their ports and airports used for transferring weapons to Israel. All states must also demand and work to facilitate an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access to end the violence and provide life-saving care to Palestinians.
While states must undertake these actions, ordinary people around the world can help compel them to do so. Already, people are organizing for creative actions at international, national, and local levels to stop the flow of weapons.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is demanding the UK government revoke all licences for arms exports to Israel, as are Al-Haq and Global Legal Action Network. World BEYOND War Canada, Labour Against the Arms Trade, and other Canadian organizations have called on the Canadian government to stop its arms transfers to Israel. Human Rights Watch has called on all countries supplying weapons to Israel to stop. Palestinians in the United States are suing the Biden administration to prevent it from providing any more weapons, money, or support to Israel. Palestinian human rights groups launched a legal bid to determine whether Australian-made weapons and ammunition are being sent to Israeli forces amid its attacks on the Gaza Strip.
There are also immediate, on-the-ground actions that can be taken to prevent arms transfers to Israel. Weapons are made by companies. And just like the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement has called on people to boycott the products of companies that invest in Israel’s violent system of apartheid and settler colonialism, people can also take action against the weapon manufactures supplying Israel. These include corporations such as Elbit Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, as well as BAE, Boeing, General Dynamics, L3 Harris, and Palantir, among others.
Activists have blockaded or taken other direction against Elbit Systems in Bristol and Kent in the UK and Cambridge, USA; Elbit-subsidiary GeoSpectrum in Nova Scotia and Elbit-subsidiary Instro Precision in Sandwich, UK; Leonardo in Edinburgh; L3 Harris in Toronto; Colt in West Hartford; Boeing in St. Charles; Raytheon in Tucson; and many others.
In addition, workers across the world have responded to a call from Palestinian trade unions to shutdown sections of the arms industry involved in sending weapons to Israel. Port workers, trade unionists, and activists are taking action from Australia to Belgium to Spain to the United States to prevent the shipment of weapons to Israel.
Some of these actions are organized by groups like Palestine Action and Dissenters; others are put together by unions and workers; and many are just undertaken by people coming together to do whatever they can to stop their countries’ complicity in genocide.
Solidarity for disruption and abolition
The importance of such actions cannot be overstated. Disrupting the arms industry is a practical, meaningful way to prevent the mass murder of Palestinians. And, its potential impacts go further than this moment in time. Disrupting specific arms transfers now will help build a movement to dismantle the arms industry later.
Many states, particularly those considered the most powerful in international affairs, have organized their industries and economies around militarization. They are invested in war profiteering at the expense of people and the planet. Building permanent war economies, they arm soldiers and police while people go hungry and unhoused; they see weapons and repression as the answer to the inequalities that their investments in violence create.
Learning to work together to interrupt the operation of Israeli weapon manufacturers and preventing the shipment of weapons to Israel is an essential step to abolishing the global war machine and its merchants of death.
In turn, abolishing the war machine is key to social, racial, ecological, and economic justice, as well as for the fulfillment of human rights and freedoms. Solidarity between movements to achieve any and all of these goals—such as that expressed by those working to Stop Cop City in Atlanta, Georgia to the Palestinian resistance, for example—will enable us to identify the relationships between the corporations, governments, and other structures of violence that profit from militarization and repression, and to take them on, together.
Ray Acheson is Director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). They provide analysis and advocacy at the United Nations and other international forums on matters of disarmament and demilitarization. Ray also serves on the steering group of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work to ban nuclear weapons, as well as the steering committees of Stop Killer Robots and the International Network on Explosive Weapons. They are author of Banning the Bomb, Smashing the Patriarchy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) and Abolishing State Violence: A World Beyond Bombs, Borders, and Cages (Haymarket Books, 2022).