UK case targets arms sales to Israel

Palestinian claims that arms can be used for "internal repression."

IDF shells 298 (photo credit: AP)
IDF shells 298
(photo credit: AP)
A London court has begun hearing a legal challenge brought by a Palestinian man claiming that Britain is violating its military hardware export rules by selling arms to Israel. Lawyers for Saleh Hassan, a Palestinian resident of Bethlehem, want Britain to halt the export of military equipment to Israel. Hassan's attorney, Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), said: "We intend to argue that the UK government should immediately review the legality and rationality of its arms-related trading activities with Israel." There was a "systematic and continuing breach of the UK government's own consolidated criteria," Shiner contended in a statement, arguing there was "clear recent evidence that arms-related products from UK based companies are implicated in indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as Lebanese civilians." Hassan's lawyers argued in court on November 15 that the sale of military spare parts and equipment to Israel violates Britain's ban on arms sales when there is a "clear risk" they "might be used for internal repression." In 2005 Britain exported over 22.5m worth of components for combat helicopters, aircraft radars, air-to-surface missiles, airborne electronic warfare equipment and other military goods to Israel. On July 24 the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat party, Sir Menzies Campbell, demanded the government halt all further military sales to Israel, arguing that "in light of disproportionate military action by Israel in Lebanon and Gaza the UK government must suspend any further arms exports to Israel." The Foreign Office has defended military exports, however. "The development, manufacture and export of arms are a perfectly legitimate part of the United Kingdom's manufacturing and export industries," Foreign Office undersecretary Lord Treisman told the House of Lords on November 6. Treisman noted that export "applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national export licensing criteria and prevailing circumstances at the time of application, including the human rights situation and the existence of tensions or armed conflicts in the recipient country," and confirmed Israel met British guidelines for arms sales. Hassan's lawyers have argued the government's case for arms sales to Israel was contradicted by the testimony of its ministers. Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Kim Howells told Parliament in August that "almost any use of equipment" sold to Israel "could be used aggressively, especially in occupied areas."