URGENT Policy Brief: Pressure States to Impose a Comprehensive Military Embargo on Israel to Stop its Crimes Against Humanity against Palestinians

You Can Either Be Complicit Or Make A Stand Don T Allow Weapons To Be Sent To Israel Through Your Country

URGENT Policy Brief - 8 November 2023: 

Pressure states to impose a comprehensive military embargo on Israel to stop its crimes against humanity against Palestinians 

Palestinian civil society is urgently calling for escalating grassroots and civil society pressure on governments involved in arms trade with Israel to immediately end such trade. This is especially urgent now given the irrefutable record of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed against the Palestinian people, particularly the 2.3 million Palestinians in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip. 

In Gaza, Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity include indiscriminate bombing, ethnic cleansing, denial of humanitarian aid, and the illegal, deliberate use of explosive weapons and white phosphorus against civilians. They also include forced displacement, cutting off water, food, medicine and fuel, and employing “starvation as a weapon of war,” as stated by Oxfam and Palestinian human rights organizations

All this has prompted prominent Israeli genocide scholar Raz Segal and senior UN official Craig Mokhiber to warn of “a textbook case of genocide.” Over 880 international scholars, the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights, UN experts, as well as Palestinian human rights organizations have also warned of an unfolding Israeli genocide in Gaza. 

A ceasefire is needed immediately. A military embargo can, as it has done in the past, enforce a ceasefire. The UNGA voted on October 27th with a very large majority to demand a humanitarian truce. The most urgent moral duty of all humanity in the face of the ongoing atrocities is to halt arms shipments to the “conflict zone” immediately.

This genocidal war is carried out with weapons that are supplied by Western powers, especially the United States (US), which has been the largest single provider of military financing and arms to Israel for decades, as well as by Canada, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom (UK), among others. Some states, including the US, the UK, and Germany, have “fast-tracked” their supply of military equipment to Israel during its current assault. 

Using such weapons and military equipment, Israel dropped in one week over Gaza around 6,000 bombs, each weighing on average 750 kilograms, almost the same quantity as the US had dropped on Afghanistan over the course of a year. On November 5th, an Israeli minister revealed that Israel possesses nuclear weapons and is considering dropping them on Gaza, an urgent warning sign for the need for a military embargo.

Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 bans, among other things, the transfer of weapons to countries which are likely to use them to commit crimes. States that act as transit hubs for the transfer of US weapons to Israel, all members of the EU, are also bound by the terms of the Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008 with regards to the exports of military technology and equipment. In 1982, the UNGA adopted a resolution (UNGA 37/123) that called on all states, among other measures, “To refrain from supplying Israel with any weapons” and “To refrain from acquiring any weapons or military equipment from Israel.” Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq published a document detailing the legal arguments for a military embargo, including the prohibition to ship weapons to Israel.

Transit states which deliver weapons and related components to the Israeli military, in full knowledge that they will be used against civilians, are complicit in war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. Nine countries have been known in the past to allow the transfer of weapons to Israel, including Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Meaningful public pressure, including by inspiring trade union action, peaceful sit-ins, and effective legal challenges, is urgently needed to compel these states to stop allowing their ports and airports to be used for transferring arms to Israel. 

Buying weapons from Israel, including spyware/cyberweapons, and other forms of financing its war machine also amount to criminal complicity in its crimes. Israeli weapons, “field-tested” on Palestinians during decades of colonial oppression, have always enabled grave violations of Palestinian human rights as well as war crimes in or by the buying countries.   

Inaction in the face of an unfolding genocide does not protect states from liability. Any state that encourages and supports genocide, the forcible transfer of civilians and other war crimes and crimes against humanity, may additionally incur legal responsibility.

Moreover, according to a growing consensus among states, including South Africa, as well as international human rights organizations and UN experts, Israel is perpetrating the crime against humanity of apartheid against the Palestinian people.

Amnesty International has recently called on the international community to “impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.” Declaring and enforcing a military embargo against Israel would shield states from being implicated in crimes under international law, including genocide and apartheid.  

In the past, Israeli governments have bowed to credible threats of military embargo, leading to ceasefire agreements. An illustrative example is in 2014, when then US President Obama, who was otherwise as deeply complicit as any US president, halted a shipment of Hellfire missiles to Israel, effectively pushing it to end its 51-day assault on the Gaza Strip, which claimed the lives of over 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 500 children.

Conscientious trade unions have refused to load weapons headed for Israel in the past. Italian unions blocked weapon shipments in 2021. Unions in Belgium have recently declared that they will refuse to handle weapons headed to Israel through Belgian ports and airports.

A military embargo includes three elements: (1) a ban on the sale of weapons to Israel; (2) a ban on buying weapons (including spyware) from Israel; and (3) a ban on shipping/transiting weapons to Israel. We call for massive peaceful pressure to get governments to respect these three bans, as applicable, that unions refuse to violate them, and that international bodies ratify them into law.