For decades, the sustained state-sponsored repression of the Palestinian people by Israel has been marked by periods of armed violence, each time resulting in a heavy toll of civilian casualties and scores of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. This month, we see yet another escalation borne out of recent incidents of forced eviction and brutal repression by Israeli forces of Palestinian demonstrations around East Jerusalem. Rockets fired into Israel from Gaza by Palestinian armed groups are reported to have killed 12 people. Israel’s aerial campaign has hit over 1,500 targets in Gaza, claiming 219 Palestinian lives. The Israeli attacks have also caused significant damage to civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including residential buildings, a refugee camp and places of worship and have impeded access to food, water and medical care for Gaza residents. Six hospitals and nine health care centers sustained damages, forcing the Gaza Central Laboratory to cease all COVID-19 testing following a nearby airstrike.

Israeli strikes have destroyed buildings and infrastructure in Gaza. Photo credit: UNOCHA/Samar Elouf

Control Arms urges all states that provide arms or military support to Israel and those that purchase arms from Israel — including those developed and used for repression of and armed attacks on Palestinians — to take immediate action to halt all arms transfers.

States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) must lead by example and apply risk assessments in good faith and without prejudice to all potential arms transfers using accurate and relevant indicators. The ATT is built on the premise that, when faced with even the risk of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, States Parties are obligated to assess that risk, and then deny arms export licenses and halt weapons transfers – including those in transit, trans-shipment or re-export – that could be used to commit or facilitate such violations. 

As stated by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), a key risk assessment indicator for all arms transfers is a state’s record of respect for international humanitarian law, and if unavailable, evidence of patterns of human rights violations along with the likelihood of engagement in armed conflict in the future. In the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there exist credible claims of violations of international humanitarian law, including the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, indiscriminate use of weapons, targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention. Given the region’s history, without a meaningful political resolution in Israel and Gaza, there is and remains a clear risk that active conflict with similar outcomes will occur yet again, as any meaningful risk assessment would acknowledge. 

Exporting states should not wait to halt arms transfers until after the death toll begins to mount. And to prevent further violence, ATT States Parties should continue to implement strict export control policies in line with their obligations under the ATT and extend restrictions even after the situation on the ground has improved. 

The situation in Gaza is just one example of the urgent need for states to stop the transfer of arms that are at risk of being used to commit or facilitate violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, all of which serve to compound human suffering. We must not fail to recognize the repression of peaceful protests in Colombia, the continued violence against civilians by the military in Myanmar, and the years-long conflict in Yemen that has caused the greatest of humanitarian disasters. In all of these countries and in many others, a permissive approach to arms transfers continues to fuel persecution, repression and death.

Control Arms once again reminds all States Parties of the ATT’s humanitarian object and purpose and urges its full implementation and application to all transfer decisions — in good faith and without prejudice. 

United Nations Statements

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock Statement on the Situation in the OPT and Israel (May 18, 2021)

OHCHR, Gaza-Israel escalation: End violence now, then work to end occupation, say UN experts   (May  18, 2021)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (May 16, 2021), António Guterres Remarks to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East 

UNICEF, Situation in State of Palestine and Israel at dangerous tipping point (May  12, 2021)

Other resources

Forum on Arms Trade, Biden Administration Arms Sales to Israel

International Federation for Human Rights, The international community must hold Israel responsible for its crimes of apartheid (April  28, 2021)

Human Rights Watch Israel Apartheid, A Threshold Crossed Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution (April 27, 2021)

B’Tselem, A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (January 12, 2021)