Solidarity activists in London occupied a UK government building yesterday to demand an immediate end to arms sales to Israel.
As Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza, the London Palestine Action group took action at the Cabinet Office on Whitehall, protesting the British government’s support for the slaughter of Palestinians by Israel. The Cabinet Office is the UK government department responsible for supporting the prime minister.
Approximately 30 activists occupied the building for 45 minutes, some locking themselves to railings inside the building to prevent the police from removing them, including myself.
The group chanted slogans calling on the UK government to impose a military embargo on Israel.
A member of London Palestine Action said in a press release: “By allowing arms exports to Israel to flourish, the UK government is providing material and political support for Israel’s violent oppression and collective punishment of Palestinians, including the current massacre in Gaza.”
“Rather than seeking to whitewash Israeli atrocities,” the campaigner added,”the UK government should listen to the appeals made by Palestinian civil society groups and Amnesty International and impose a military embargo on Israel. How many more people in Gaza have to die before the government will stop arming Israel?”
Official government data shows that the UK issued arms export licenses to Israel worth £180 million ($307 million) in the period 2008-12. Recent UK military exports to Israel include F16 fighter jets, assault rifles, armoured vehicles and ammunition. Thirty-one different UK companies export arms to Israel.
Campaigners also criticized the UK government for collaborating with Israeli arms company Elbit Systems to build a new generation of drones for the UK army. The Watchkeeper drone will be heavily based on the Hermes 450, an Israeli drone that Human Rights Watch has documented as being used to deliberately attack Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
The London Palestine Action campaigner added: “Israeli military companies use Gaza as the testing ground for new weaponry and then make millions exporting the technology. The British government is, in effect, buying technology that has been ‘field tested’ on Palestinians. We have to act to end UK complicity in Israeli apartheid and colonialism. We’ll continue to take direct action until the UK government and UK companies stop participating in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.”
The UK government also leases Hermes 450 drones from Elbit Systems for use in Afghanistan.
Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli since it began its assault on Gaza. Palestinian and international human rights groups have accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, war crimes under international law.
Following the 2008-09 attack on Gaza, the then Labor government announced that several arms export licenses would be revoked.