The man on a mission to stop Israeli arms sales to human-rights violators

Eli Joseph has been on hunger strike for the past 48 days and plans to continue until MKs propose a bill to address the problem.

Elie Joseph in front of his banner protesting Israeli arms sales to major human rights violators, Jerusalem, July 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Elie Joseph in front of his banner protesting Israeli arms sales to major human rights violators, Jerusalem, July 2020
“God created Man in His image… Israel will purify itself from giving aid (weapons and training) to murderous regimes,” reads a banner hanging on the fence of the Wohl Rose Garden facing the Knesset.
In front of that banner for the past five years has stood Elie Joseph, a grandfather who made aliyah from the UK in 1975. He has dedicated himself to the cause of stopping Israeli arms sales to major human-rights violators.
Joseph has been on a hunger strike for the past 48 days, and he plans to continue until MKs propose a bill to ban weapons sales to human-rights violators.
He and his supporters have organized a special prayer vigil for Wednesday night, the beginning of Tisha Be’Av, on which Jews fast to mourn the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. According to Jewish tradition, the Temples were destroyed due to Jews’ sins, especially that of baseless hatred.
Selling weapons to regimes “that only increase baseless hatred in the world” is a continuation of that sin, Joseph said.
“Military aid to murderous countries is planting the seeds of Israel’s destruction,” he told The Jerusalem Post last week. “If we help someone else commit genocide, we are leading to our own destruction. We don’t want to destroy the state we love.”
Joseph – and his banner – say Israel sells weapons to Myanmar, which the UN has accused of “genocidal intent” toward its Rohingya Muslim minority; Cameroon, which has been engaged in a bloody civil war for nearly three years; and South Sudan, which has a history of ethnic violence among its tribes.
The Defense Ministry does not confirm specific arms deals, but there are other indications that these sales have taken place. For example, in 2015, the head of Myanmar’s army visited Israel and wrote on his Facebook page that he had ordered a Dvora-class fast patrol boat. At the time, the EU had embargoed weapons sales to the Southeast Asian nation.
Israel was also one of seven countries listed in a 2019 UN report on arms sales to Myanmar. At the time, the Foreign Ministry said Israel had not sold military equipment to the country since 2017, when it became aware of its actions against the Rohingya.
Joseph made a name for himself interrupting political events over the last few election cycles, showing up nightly to interrupt politicians and asking what they were doing to stop weapons made in Israel from being misused.
Before the second 2019 election, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz – now defense minister – said Israel “must not sell weapons to regimes that commit genocide. Israel is a moral nation and a moral country, and we must behave that way in our international relations.”
But there has not been any movement on that front, and Joseph’s hunger strike continued on Sunday. A condition for the end of the hunger strike is for the bill he seeks, to ban these weapons sales, to be proposed by both a member of the coalition and opposition, such as the 2016 proposal by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg and former Likud MK Yehudah Glick.
“I am trying to raise a voice in the time of crisis we are facing,” Joseph said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Evil begets more evil.”
His goal is for “any country that thinks they can murder children and civilians to know that we’re boycotting them.”
THE BILL Joseph has been pushing is necessary, he said, because the High Court of Justice determined – in a case that remains under gag order – that Israel can continue to sell weapons to countries that are not under a UN Security Council arms embargo.
Joseph cited China and Russia as vetoing those embargoes, and he slammed Israel-China ties.
In light of China putting an estimated one million Uighur Muslims in forced-labor camps, Joseph said, “We shouldn’t do business with a country representing that kind of evil. Ties with such people endangers Israel.”
“We are against any business activities, weapons or not, with any country that is murdering or torturing innocent civilians – and China [fits] this definition,” he said.
Joseph lamented that the matter is not discussed enough by the Israeli public, which he attributed to military and court-ordered censorship of the information.
“The military denies the public the knowledge,” he said. “The public doesn’t want to be part of mass murder. I don’t want a child in South Sudan to be killed with my weapons.”
Joseph often refers to his religious beliefs as being the engine behind his activism. He quotes from the Bible, arguing that in Genesis, Abraham would not take a gift from the King of Sodom because he was a murderer, and as such, Israel should not take money from killers.
“I believe the day will come when the people of Israel say, ‘My God, what have we done!’” Joseph said. “I am doing what I am doing because I am a believer that we, the Jewish people, love humanity. We went through hell in our lifetimes, and we love humanity. That is who we are as a nation.”