A pro-Palestinian protester holds a sign during a national demonstration

A pro-Palestinian protester holds a sign during a national demonstration to mark the 76th anniversary of the Nakba on May 18, 2024 in London.

(Photo: Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Oxfam Joins Case Calling on High Court to Stop UK Arms Sales to Israel

"As long as Israel is killing Palestinian civilians in apparent contravention of international law, the U.K. government has a responsibility to stop selling it arms."

As government data showed the British government has approved more than 100 arms licenses for Israel since it began bombarding Gaza in October, the humanitarian group Oxfam on Thursday joined a legal case demanding the U.K. High Court intervene in the country's continued weapons sales in the interest of protecting Palestinian civilians.

Oxfam said the court "has been presented with evidence that Israel is not complying with the legal obligations that apply during armed conflict." Human rights experts have said for months that Israel is blocking crucial humanitarian aid and failing to take steps to protect civilians, as in its recent attacks on encampments in Rafah and at Nuseirat refugee camp, where at least 274 Palestinians were killed in the Israel Defense Forces' operation to rescue four Israeli hostages.

Oxfam joined Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq and U.K.-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) in calling on the High Court to order the Secretary of State for Business and Trade to suspend all licenses of weapons and military equipment for Israel, and to stop granting new licenses.

At a Royal Courts of Justice hearing on Thursday, Oxfam was granted permission to act as an intervener and provide a witness statement outlining the conditions the group has seen in Gaza since October.

"Gaza is fast becoming completely uninhabitable," said Halima Begum, chief executive of Oxfam Great Britain. "More than 37,000 people have been killed and a further 84,000 have been wounded, the majority children. 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 U.K. government has a responsibility to stop selling it arms."

Begum called on the U.K. to use "all the diplomatic leverage it has to push for an immediate and lasting cease-fire."

Oxfam joined the legal case days after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution endorsing a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday accused Hamas of holding up the cease-fire deal by proposing more amendments to the agreement, while Hamas said it had only proposed counter-revisions to changes made by Israeli officials.

Meanwhile, Israeli attacks continued in Rafah, Gaza City, and other parts of the enclave.

"Morally, the U.K. should not be fueling this onslaught by selling Israel more weapons," said Begum. "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."

The U.K. has licensed at least £489 million ($624 million) of military exports to Israel since 2015, and the country provides about 15% of the components of the F-35 stealth bomber aircraft being used by Israel in Gaza.

On Tuesday, after the government released new figures regarding U.K. arms sales to Israel, Begum said the British government is engaging in "a remarkable feat of intellectual compromise" as it claims to support peace efforts in Gaza "while facilitating the supply of even greater flows of weapons to one of the belligerents."

"It is a comprehensive failure in the U.K.'s moral leadership and the values of humanity for which this country is still known on the global stage that the government has granted more than 100 new licenses for arms sales to Israel," said Begum. "This has occurred in the unequivocal knowledge that tens of thousands of innocent Palestinian children and their parents are being killed by Israel's prosecution of the war in Gaza."

Tim Bierley, campaigner for Global Justice Now, noted that "it's clear to most people that the U.K. must cut off the supply of arms" to Israel as it faces an International Criminal Court investigation into its actions in Gaza. A YouGov poll last month found 55% of Britons supported suspending arms sales to Israel for the duration of the fighting in Gaza, including 40% of Conservative voters and 74% of Labour Party supporters.

"Despite the breathtaking scale and brutality of Israel's war crimes in Gaza, the U.K. has given the green light to huge shipments of weapons to the country, including components for military aircraft and guns," said Bierley. "The leaders of many countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, and Spain, have taken steps to [halt arms sales], but the British government has opted instead for complicity in war crimes. We must not accept this as normal."

The High Court is scheduled to hold a judicial review hearing about a potential intervention in arms sales in October.

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