Human rights campaigners have gathered outside the venue of one of the largest arms fair in the world which is being held in London to protest against the sale and purchase of arms by notorious human rights abusers including Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The biannual event at ExCel London, organised by the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition (DSEI), which advertises itself as "the world leading" arms industry fair, opened for business despite wide scale condemnation. Many are unaware that the controversial event is subsidised by the taxpayer.
The exhibition, which Amnesty International and the London Mayor have called to be banned, has become a mecca for arms suppliers while also attracting military delegations from abusive regimes and war-torn regions around the world.
Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) told MEMO: "The DSEI arms fair will bring the world's biggest arms companies together with many of the world's most oppressive regimes. It will see civil servants and government ministers pushing deadly wares into conflict zones and to human rights abusers."
With weapons purchase increasing by more than 100 per cent in many countries and with many countries in the Middle East gripped by war, CAAT joined the chorus of voices calling for DSEI to be shut down for good. Earlier this year CAAT failed in its legal bid to prevent British arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The organisation had said the UK-made arms sold to Saudi, which is engaged in a war in Yemen, are being used during military campaigns that violate International Humanitarian Law, including the bombing of hospitals.
This year campaigners are protesting on a number of issues. On Monday the theme was "Stop Arming Israel". Pro-Palestinian activists were seen trying to block trucks carrying Israeli made weapons from entering the venue. Yesterday, protester Sarah Wilkinson told the Electronic Intifada that she had been supporting Palestine for nearly 40 years. She said the British government should "stop supporting Israel" and its "illegal and immoral" actions. "It's our duty to be there to protest for Palestine."
Campaigners are acutely aware of the fact that although Israel is not the leading arms exporter in the world it has an oversized role within the arms industry. Not only does it rank amongst the highest in terms of weapons sale per capita, its share of weapons exports have nearly doubled. Deals with African countries have risen steadily on an annual basis since 2009.
In the exhibition, Israel is one of a handful of countries with a "national pavilion", a designated area where Israeli arms companies can exhibit their wares – the newest military technology, "battle tested" and "combat proven".
Activists claim that Israel's perpetual state of conflict with Palestinians gives the country a marketing edge in the weapons industry. "Battle-tested" is the best marketing slogan for defence industries the world over so, for Israeli military manufactures, Israel's many wars and ongoing conflict with the Palestinians has yielded a major competitive edge.
In the coming days, protests will also take place against nuclear weapons and arms renewables. There will also be a public education day on arms trade and a candle lit vigil on the last day of the exhibition.