European governments have long given Israel political cover for their occupation of Palestine and the violence that comes with it. Adrienne Wallace looks at another aspect of this support for Israel: massive arms sales.
While news of a ceasefire between Israel and Palestine will stop the immediate bombardment of the people in the Gaza strip, it will not end the cyclic violence and subjugation that Palestinians have endured for generations.
Throughout the 11 days of violence 230 Palestinians have been killed, 65 of whom are children, and 1,900 injured. 12 people died in Israel. While Palestinians are overwhelming armed with sling shots and rocks, Israel is a military giant; the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has nearly 170,000 active military personnel and more than three million available for army service. It’s an extraordinary number for an overall population of just 9 million, and highlights just how heavily militarised Israel is.
The IDF also boasts a huge budget, with $20.5 billion available according to 2019 estimates. Globally it is ranked 15th in terms of military expenditure.
On the other hand, without any real state or regular army, different Palestinian resistance groups have much less manpower than the Israeli army, amounting to circa 30,000 to 50,000 in troops. It is a modern-day story of David and Goliath; and in the face of such odds the Palestinian people’s courage has spurred millions onto the streets in global days of protests. While people from Carlow to Cairo demand an end to decades of oppression and violence, world leaders have taken a much softer approach to the apartheid state of Israel.
As the fighting continued key European countries called for a quick ceasefire. In general, however, European governments have been supportive of Israel despite the crimes it commits.
All of the member states except Hungary backed a statement that condemned rocket attacks by Hamas and supported Israel’s right to “self-defence”. Although they cautioned that it had “to be done in a proportional manner… respecting international humanitarian law” they did little to actually pressure Israel into respecting humanitarian law.
Furthermore, while the EU’s official position maintains that Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law, they simultaneously view Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian people in these settlements as more “self-defence”.
A further hypocrisy in EU-Israel relations is the Hungarian support for Israel. The Hungarian government has shown itself to be tolerant of anti-Semitic figures, but this hasn’t stopped Benjamin Netanyahu embracing the far-right government. Israel sees the nationalist leaders in Hungary as natural allies, a fact which seems to largely revolve on the shared hostility the states hold toward human rights.
The EU’s soft approach to both these countries reveals the ugly truth behind its stated values of liberalism and neutrality. Ringing true the old adage; if you are neutral in times of oppression you are on the side of the oppressor. Apartheid-in-chief Netanyahu will not listen to anyone asking nicely. He commits war crimes and openly violates international law. The EU must be pushed into taking a hard stance on Israel; one definitive action would be to withdraw all arm sales and supplies to Israel.
Aside from Israel’s own arms industry, the USA is by far its biggest supplier of arms. According to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 2009 and 2018 the US supplied 70% of all international transfers of major conventional weapons to Israel.
But the US is not the only imperial country to have a stake in an industry that profits from violence and oppression. It is followed by Germany, who supply 24%, and Italy with 5.9%. According to Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), from 2015-2019, the US signed contracts worth $8.7 billion worth of arms to Israel. During this time, those EU members that report figures for arms deliveries, supplied €682 million worth of arms to Israel, this was led by Italy, with €342 million.
Germany and the UK do not provide delivery data, but Germany issued licenses for arms sales to Israel worth €862 million between 2015 and 2019 and when the UK was still a part of the EU, it issued individual licenses worth £376 million.
In recent days, left-wing Labour MP Zarah Sultana has been questioning whether “British weapons were used to murder” Palestinians in Gaza – a question Boris Johnson wasn’t brave enough to answer. Meanwhile Biden’s administration in the US is under renewed pressure from Bernie Sanders and the more progressive wing of the democrats to stop the latest sale of $735m of approved weapons to Israel no such calls have come from the EU.
A growing number of NGOs are willing to publicly state that Israel is committing war crimes. The Palestinian foreign minister has heightened calls on the International Criminal Court for an investigation into Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. Palestinian officials also continue to provide the Court with information and documentation on new and ongoing crimes.
In the face of mounting evidence of crimes against humanity, the EU’s complicitly in the Arms Trade contravenes any stated commitments to equality and justice. The reality is that under the guise of liberal politics the EU is an emerging colonial power. It wants to position itself to rival the US; as such it has refused to sanction the member states that have a profitable stake in the continued occupation of Palestine. In an attempt to bulk up its imperial prowess the EU has made a number of covert moves to create an expensive and dangerous European Army.
An EU Army?
Permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) was launched in December 2017, and since June 2019 25 EU countries, including Ireland, are participating. One of the most outspoken critics of PESCO was People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett who voted against it in the Dáil referring to it as “a move to ram through a vote to move towards joining a European Union Army and quadrupling military spending”.
What makes PESCO different is that participating member states agreed to legally-binding commitments, including spending more on defence; ultimately making a mockery of Ireland’s neutrality and the EUs progressive image.
Arms companies are not particularly large by international business standards. The largest, Lockheed Martin in the US, has a total sales of $54 billion, compared with Toyota which has sales of £265 billion or Apple with $229 billion. However, their influence within government is out of proportion to this size. The larger companies have managed to insert themselves into the heart of the corridors of power.
They sit on powerful advisory bodies; company executives alongside government ministers. Senior politicians, civil servants and military personnel ‘revolve’ into arms industry jobs providing personal contacts and access. In addition, lobbying by the arms industry has been notched up in recent times and is fundamentally shaping the EU’s military policies.
The EU’s plans to fund the research and development of new weapons through the European Defence Fund reflects the acceleration in the militarisation of the EU. The combined annual EU lobbying budget of the top ten European arms companies has significantly increased since 2012, from €2.8 million to €5.6 million. In 2016, the EU took the unprecedented step of granting up to €90 million for military research over 2017-2019.
The European Commission proposes to mobilise €40 billion from the EU budget and member state contributions through the European Defence Fund for the research and development of weapons and military equipment. And from 2013-2016, the Commission’s directorate for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs had 37 meetings with the arms industry. This is a stark example of how elected politicians are more like managers for the capitalist class of the arms industry. The result is unquestioning support for arms exports, high levels of military spending and a militaristic approach to problems.
Boycott, Divest, Sanction
While elected leaders across the globe refuse to take the direct action needed to stop the continuing Israeli blockade and occupation of the Palestinian territories, which is the central cause of the current violence, ordinary people have once again stepped up. Large protests have exploded onto streets calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and an end to the occupation.
In the Dáil, People Before Profit led the call to expel the Israeli ambassador with an amendment to a Sinn Féin motion which described Israeli annexation of Palestinian land as a violation of international law. The amendment was voted down, but the original motion passed with unanimous support (prompting an angry reaction from the Israeli government).
Support for the motion showed that government parties recognised the need to say something about Israeli aggression given the level of solidarity in Ireland with the Palestinian cause. At the same time, rejecting the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador highlights the need for us to redouble our pressure so that the Irish government implements concrete sanctions on the Israeli state.
This is especially true in the context of the upcoming Occupied Territories Bill. If passed, this Bill would mean an historic set of BDS actions being written into Irish law.
Furthermore, in an echo to the Dunnes Stores workers in the 1980s who refused to handle South African Apartheid goods, port workers in Livorno, Italy refused to load a ship carrying weapons to the Israeli port of Ashdod. As with most struggles in history, it is the leadership from below that often leads the way to lasting change.
In 2006 Anti-war demonstrators occupied the premises of a software development firm in Derry in protest at the company’s links to the arms industry and in particular the Israeli Defence Forces. Nine people – including civil rights campaigner Eamonn McCann – forced their way into the Raytheon Systems plant when the doors opened. They destroyed the technology being used to manufacture high-tech missiles being deployed on civilian targets and proceeded to occupy it for eight hours prior to their arrest.
Civil disobedience, protests and heightened calls for campaigns to Boycott, Divest and Sanction should be the cornerstone of the international dimension in the struggle for the liberation of Palestine.
While the Palestinians fight bombs with rocks; the workers of the world should fight the settlements with strikes and unite to break the bond between the Zionists, the colonialists and the capitalists.