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600 lawyers sign letter calling on the UK to stop arms sales to Israel

April 4, 2024 at 6:12 pm

Israeli soldiers are deployed at Erez border with heavy weapons and military vehicles in Erez, Israel on February 29, 2024. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

600 legal experts have signed an open letter to Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, arguing that the UK government is at risk of breaking international law if it continues arms exports to Israel.

They warned that the UK is legally obliged to act to prevent genocide, after the International Court of Justice found it was “plausible” that Israel’s acts could be considered an intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.

The core message of the 17-page letter, signed by three former Supreme Court justices, emphasises the urgent need for the UK to address the dire situation in Gaza, highlighted by the International Court of Justice’s provisional ruling indicating a credible threat of genocide against Palestinians.

Moreover, the letter criticises government ministers for inadequately meeting their international legal obligations regarding arms sales to Israel and the cessation of aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which Israel claims has links with Hamas.

READ: The Elders call for suspension of arms transfers to Israel to end Gaza atrocities

Israel has repeatedly equated UNRWA staff with Hamas members in efforts to discredit them, providing no proof of the claims, while lobbying hard to have UNRWA closed as it is the only UN agency to have a specific mandate to look after the basic needs of Palestinian refugees. If the agency no longer exists, argues Israel, then the refugee issue must no longer exist, and the legitimate right for Palestinian refugees to return to their land will be unnecessary. Israel has denied that right of return since the late 1940s, even though its own membership of the UN was made conditional upon Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to their homes and land.

The letter states: “While we welcome the increasingly robust calls by your government for a cessation of fighting and the unobstructed entry to Gaza of humanitarian assistance, simultaneously to continue (to take two striking examples) the sale of weapons and weapons systems to Israel and to maintain threats of suspending UK aid to UNWRA falls significantly short of your government’s obligations under international law.”

Increasing pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to halt arms sales to Israel following the killing of seven aid workers in Gaza due to an Israeli airstrike on Monday. Among the victims were British citizens John Chapman, James “Jim” Henderson and James Kirby, aged 47.

The letter added, “The UK must take immediate measures to bring to an end through lawful means acts giving rise to a serious risk of genocide.”

“Failure to comply with its own obligations under the Genocide Convention to take ‘all measures to prevent genocide which were within its power’ would incur UK state responsibility for the commission of an international wrong.”

The letter’s signatories include former Supreme Court justices Lord Sumption and Lord Wilson, former Lord Justices of Appeal Sir Stephen Sedley, Sir Alan Moses, Sir Anthony Hooper and Sir Richard Aikens and former Bar of England and Wales Chair, Matthias Kelly, KC.

Since 2015, the UK has licensed £487 million ($617 million) worth of weapons to Israel. However, this does not include equipment exported via open licences. In particular, 15 per cent of the value of every US-made F-35 combat aircraft, which Israel uses to bomb Gaza, is made in the UK, exports for which are covered by an open licence with no limit on the quantity or value of exports. The Campaign Against Arms Trade estimates conservatively that the work on the 36 F-35s exported to Israel up to 2023 has been worth at least £368 million ($466 million) to the UK arms industry.

Israel has waged a deadly military offensive on the Gaza Strip since a 7 October cross-border attack by the Palestinian group, Hamas, which killed less than 1,200 people.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

More than 33,000 Palestinians have since been killed and 75,500 injured amid mass destruction and shortages of necessities.

READ: UN rights council to consider call for arms embargo on Israel