UK arms Israel as it bombards Gaza

Britain’s Conservative government has authorised the export of £472m worth of arms to Israel in the past eight years, including support for its combat aircraft that are now striking Gaza amid an humanitarian crisis.

20 October 2023

Palestinians gather at a site of Israeli strikes on houses in Bureij camp in the central Gaza Strip, 18 October 2023. (Photo by Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

I know I do not have the words or the right to describe the suffering of Palestinians today, a description which could only ever pale in comparison to the hell on earth currently raining down on Gaza. 

We owe Palestinians more than our horror. We must hold our own government and opposition leadership to account for the war crimes they are supporting in our name.

Israel is using UK arms exports in a genocide against the Palestinian people with impunity, in retaliation for Hamas’ horrific killings and abductions of Israeli civilians.

The UK has sold arms to Israel in spite of its illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, since 1967. Four major military assaults on Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, and 2021 have killed almost 4,000 Palestinians. 

This month, in less than two weeks, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians in Gaza, as the UK and most other Western governments sanctioned trapping over two million people, with no food, water, fuel, or way out, watching their homes collapse, and their loved ones die day by day. 

This isn’t unexpected. It is exactly what the Israeli government promised. 


Lawless in Gaza: Why Britain and the West back Israel’s...



One enduring aspect of the brutality of past colonialism is that UK manufactured arms exports and components are today used in bombardments in formerly colonised territories, and increasingly against civilians. 

A recent example is the war in Yemen where the UK has supported thousands of airstrikes by Saudi forces, involving numerous attacks on civilians. 

In Palestine, the period of British rule from 1917 to 1948 before the state of Israel was declared – and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes – was brutal. 

A review last year of historical evidence included details of arbitrary killings, torture, the use of human shields, and home demolitions as collective punishment – all committed under the banner of formal policy guidelines for the UK authorities in Palestine. 

The scale of the devastation we are witnessing in Palestine and Israel now is, however, unprecedented, but the dehumanisation of Palestinians is a continuation of a long colonial legacy. 

The Balfour Declaration made by the British government in 1917 championed “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. It is in the shadow of this colonial legacy that UK arms exports to Israel have continued unabated despite Israel’s repeated breaches of international law, apartheid and occupation of Palestine. 


It’s not just Putin – UK ministers are also complicit...


Arming Israel

Since the Conservative government was elected in May 2015, the UK has licenced over £472m worth of arms to Israeli forces. This includes licences covering components for aircraft, helicopters, drones, bombs, missiles, military technology, armoured vehicles, tanks, ammunition, and small arms. 

The highest value single licence to Israel in recent years was issued in 2021 for “unmanned air vehicles”, “military aero-engines”, and related equipment and components, worth a total of £9m. 

However, this figure doesn’t include exports covered under the secretive Open Licencing system, whereby the UK government authorises the transfer of unlimited quantities of listed military items, with no requirement to report what, if any, is transferred.

The licencing system inherently and purposefully lacks transparency and can easily facilitate violations of international law against civilians during conflicts. Since May 2015, our government has approved 57 open licences, including 10 in 2022 alone. 

Combat aircraft

One of the most significant UK arms exports to Israel in the context of the current violations against civilians, is Britain’s contribution to the US F-35 stealth combat aircraft which are currently being used by Israel to bombard Gaza.

Approximately 15% of the value of each F-35 aircraft is produced in the UK, including the rear aft fuselage, the fuel system, and a range of electronic systems. 

In addition to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor in the F-35 project, BAE Systems, GE Aviation, Martin-Baker, SELEX, Cobham, Ultra Electronics, UTC Actuation Systems and Rolls-Royce are among the companies involved. 

“Approximately 15% of the value of each F-35 aircraft is produced in the UK”

According to the SIPRI arms transfer database, Israel has ordered a total of 50 F-35s from the US, of which 36 have so far been delivered, up to the end of 2022.

While the value of UK companies’ F-35 contracts with Lockheed Martin is not known, CAAT estimates that the UK’s share implies a value of £58m for deliveries to Israel in 2022 alone.

This is far higher than the value the government publishes as single licences, and amounts to approximately £336m since deliveries began in 2016. 

Almost all exports related to the F-35 programme are covered by an open licence not included in the government’s licencing figures mentioned above. 

UK law prohibits issuing licences if the government “determines” that there is a “clear risk” arms exports might be used in a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”. 

But F-35s were also deployed in Gaza in May 2021 when an Israeli government spokesperson confirmed their use as part of an assault that killed 260 Palestinians, including at least 129 civilians, and 13 Israelis, including 12 civilians. 


Sunak takes British support for Israel to new extreme


No assessment

In 2009, the UK’s then foreign secretary, David Miliband, admitted that Israeli equipment used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict “almost certainly” contained UK-supplied components. 

However, no such assessment is known to have been conducted by the government in subsequent Israeli attacks on Gaza. This is despite consistent cross-party calls for an investigation, including by a group of 78 MPs in 2021. 

“Ending military support and arms exports to Israel is a clear and tangible action we can demand of our government”

UK arms exports to Israel are a crime in and of themselves given the extent of Israel’s human rights abuses. But the suffering they are causing is increased exponentially by the unqualified political support our leaders – both in government and opposition – have given to the Israeli government to commit war crimes against Palestinian civilians with impunity. 

The Israeli government’s promises of vengeance, and elimination of Palestinians together with references to “human animals”, were instantly recognisable as genocidal.

Our government supported a blockade of Gaza cutting off water, food, and electricity, trapping civilians in 140 square miles under constant bombardment, collective punishment, and forcible transfer of people. Dehumanisation and racism is at the core of this support. 

Ending military support and arms exports to Israel is a clear and tangible action we can demand of our government in the midst of this horror. 

Human solidarity

Members of the UK government have sought to justify their position by collapsing the human understanding of solidarity. 

Home secretary Suella Braverman’s suggestion that waving the Palestinian flag could constitute a criminal offence rests on the assumption that it is impossible to care for and grieve for more than one community at the same time. 

It illustrates her belief that support for the lives and freedom of Palestinians can only exist when accompanied by anti-semitism and hatred. 

We cannot let ourselves be polarised by the political ideology of our government, which only appears capable of articulating military alliances but not true solidarity with our common humanity. 

We have seen our government condone fighting massacres with even greater massacres, hatred with even more hatred. It does not speak in our name. 

We owe it to Palestinians and to Israelis to see our desire for a just and peaceful world reflected by our elected representatives.