Skip to main content

UK: Israel has different interpretation of international law

UK says Israel has different interpretation of international law in arms sale challenge
3 min read
22 January, 2024
The UK will continue selling arms arms to Israel despite obvious concerns about international law being flouted in Gaza.
Israel has uprooted almost the whole Palestinian population of Gaza [Getty]

The UK will continue arms sales to Israel despite huge concerns that international humanitarian law is being broken in Gaza, a legal document has revealed.

Documents from a case brought against the UK government by rights groups GLAN and Al-Haq have shown huge concerns raised, including from civil servants, about Israel's assault on Gaza where over 25,000 Palestinians have been killed.

The UK government had completed a review into arms exports to Israel after a foreign office unit raised "serious concerns" that Israel might have flouted international humanitarian law in its assault on Gaza.

Despite evidence presented by South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) earlier this month that international law has been broken - including aid being withheld - UK arms sales to Israel will continue.

A recently revealed UK government review from November of arms exports to Israel also uncovered an alarming claim that Israel was perceived as having a different interpretation and view of its international humanitarian law obligations.

In December, the Export Control Joint Unit gave Foreign Minister David Cameron three options after a review was completed: to continue sales to Israel but keep them under review, prohibit weapons that might be used in Gaza, or suspend all arms sales.

Cameron "decided that he was satisfied that there was good evidence to support a judgment that Israel is committed to comply with IHL. On the basis of that assessment in particular, the Foreign Secretary decided to recommend Option 1 to the Secretary of State for Business and Trade”, according to information in a document revealed by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

Earlier this month, Cameron said he was concerned that Israel could have broken international humanitarian law in Gaza.

Live Story

The UK in 2015 sold Israel £487m in arms to Israel, although the real figure is likely much higher, CAAT said.

There have been huge concerns by rights groups and MPs about British weapons being used by Israel in its unprecedented assault on Gaza.

"It is a disgrace that we only know about this review through the legal action brought by Al-Haq and GLAN. It shouldn’t take the threat of a court case for there to be any government accountability," said Emily Apple, media coordinator for CAAT in a statement.

"David Cameron could, and should, have shared this information with the Foreign Affairs Committee. He chose not to, and was evasive, despite intense questioning.  There must be consequences for this refusal to present this information to the committee that is supposed to be scrutinising his actions. 

"As a Lord, he cannot be questioned on the floor of the House of Commons, so this committee is the only way MPs can hold him accountable."

Labour MP Zarah Sultana wants the UK government to pass a law that prevents arms sales to countries that break international human rights law - including Israel.

"It's utterly outrageous that the government made the active decision to continue arming Israel despite the overwhelming evidence of Israeli war crimes in Gaza," the MP said about the documents.

"These documents expose that whilst ministers were giving public reassurances about Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law, in private there were major concerns in the Foreign Office about Israel's behaviour," Zarah said.

"The government must now end its complicity in this atrocity and immediately suspend arms sales to Israel."

Live Story

Israel defended itself in the ICJ last week on charges of committing genocide in Gaza.

Journalists, who have been targeted by Israel, have documented numerous instances of rights abuses in Gaza.

Civilian infrastructure has been destroyed - including schools, universities and hospitals - while aid, water, and electricity to Gaza's 2.3 million population have been cut.

The New Arab has approached the UK government for comment.