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Oxfam seeks to intervene in judicial review of UK arms sales to Israel

June 13, 2024 at 3:59 pm

Israeli attacks on Gaza and the movement of tanks along the border continue on May 30, 2024 in Israel. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Oxfam has applied to intervene formally in a judicial review of the UK government’s continuing approval of arms sales to Israel, the international anti-poverty agency announced today. The case is being brought to the High Court in London by the UK-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), and Al-Haq, an award-winning independent Palestinian human rights organisation. It is supported by the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians.

The court has been presented with evidence that Israel is not complying with the legal obligations that apply during armed conflict. It is being asked to make an order requiring the Secretary of State for Business and Trade no longer to grant, and to suspend, all licences of weapons and military equipment exports to Israel for use in Gaza.

As an organisation mounting a humanitarian response in Gaza, Oxfam has sought permission from the High Court to act as an intervener, in order to provide a witness statement outlining Oxfam’s experience as a humanitarian responder in the enclave and to make representations on the applicable law. A hearing on its application will take place today at the Royal Courts of Justice.

The judicial review hearing is expected to take place in October. Since 2015, the UK has licensed at least £489 million worth of military exports to Israel and 61 unlimited value “open” licences, including components for combat aircraft, missiles, tanks, technology, small arms and ammunition. The UK provides approximately 15 per cent of the components in the F-35 stealth bomber aircraft currently being used in Israel’s military campaign against the Palestinian population in Gaza.

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Oxfam is calling for a ceasefire in Gaza to end the death and destruction and to allow vital aid to get to those who so desperately need it, as well as continuing to call for the release of the hostages.

“Gaza is fast becoming completely uninhabitable. More than 37,000 people have been killed and a further 84,000 have been wounded, the majority children and women. At least 500,000 Palestinians in Gaza are facing famine and children are dying of starvation. As long as Israel is killing Palestinian civilians in apparent contravention of international law, the UK government has a responsibility to stop selling it arms,” explained Halima Begum, Oxfam GB Chief Executive.

“Morally, the UK should not be fuelling this onslaught by selling Israel more weapons. Instead, it should be using all the diplomatic leverage it has to push for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. It is vital that the bombardment of Gaza ends, so that Oxfam and our fellow humanitarian agencies can safely deliver life-saving aid to civilians on the scale that is so urgently required.

Begum added that, as Prime Minister in 2014, David Cameron proudly signed the Arms Trade Treaty on behalf of the UK. “He is now foreign secretary of a government that would appear intent on rejecting that treaty’s most fundamental obligations.”

Previous Conservative and Labour governments have restricted or suspended the sale of arms during periods of violent escalation in Gaza, including both the Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair administrations. Alicia Kearns, the current Conservative chair of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, has said that government lawyers made clear to ministers that Israel has violated international humanitarian law in the ongoing war in Gaza.

Oxfam condemns the use of arms against civilians and violations of both international law and human rights law by all parties to the conflict, including Palestinian armed groups. In February, Oxfam Novib won a lawsuit against the Dutch government for its export of arms to Israel that are being used in the war in Gaza.

Moreover, the agency intervened successfully in a case brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade which challenged the UK government’s granting of export licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in its war in Yemen. The Appeal Court determined that the UK was acting unlawfully by not determining, where possible, whether Saudi Arabian air strikes may have been serious violations of international humanitarian law.

READ: Oxfam says arms licences for Israel ‘comprehensive failure’ of UK ‘moral leadership