Israeli soldiers at the border with Gaza today. Photo: Getty
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Why the UK must end its military support for Israel

Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against Arms Trade argues that those who oppose Israel's actions in Gaza must acknowledge that Britain is implicitly supporting them through its military trade. 

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, pronounced last week on Russia's support for separatists in Ukraine: “They have been supplying them, they have been supporting them . . . They cannot deny their responsibility for the acts that these people are carrying out." He is right, but the same could be said of the UK's support for Israel in the current bombardment of Gaza.

It's almost impossible not to be moved by the bloody and horrific images that are coming out of Gaza. The intensifying conflict has become a humanitarian catastrophe, with much of Gaza's infrastructure being destroyed and the violence claiming the lives of over 600 Palestinians and 30 Israelis.

There have been international calls for a ceasefire, but they are having little impact. Gilad Erdan, communications minister and a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner security cabinet, said: “This is not the time to talk of a ceasefire. We must complete the mission.”

The UK government's call for “peace” is hollow when it reiterates its support for Israel; David Cameron has described his support as “unbreakable” and Hammond has refused to declare the Israeli response disproportionate.

The UK's political support is underpinned by its strong military relationship with Israel. In terms of exports, the UK has awarded almost £50m in military licences to Israel in the last five years, including £10m last year.

It seems likely that UK arms exports have played a direct role in the conflict. In 2009, David Miliband, then Foreign Secretary confirmed that Israeli equipment that had been used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict “almost certainly” contained UK-supplied components.

The relationship works in both directions. The Israeli arms industry is one of the most advanced in the world, with more than 200 arms companies and a government spend of $18.2 billion in the last year alone.

Last week, as bombs were being dropped on Gaza, a number of major Israeli arms companies were in the UK for the Farnborough International Airshow, which, despite its family-friendly image, is little more than a glorified arms fair.

Among the companies promoting “battle-tested” weapons was Elbit Systems, which is working with  UK arms company, Thales UK, on a Ministry of Defence contract worth nearly £1 billion for the development of Watchkeeper WK450 drones. The aim is for these to be exported from 2015 onwards.

As long as these kinds of deals are central to UK-Israeli relations, it is unlikely that there will be any change in the current levels of political and military support.

The violence in Gaza did not start two weeks ago. It has been going on for decades. In that time Israel has used excessive and disproportionate force and carried out house demolitions, targeted assassinations, detention of minors, detention without trial, attacks on water supplies, violation of the right to food and attacks on medical personnel and equipment.

The ongoing military collaboration and the sale of weapons are not apolitical moves. Arms deals don't just give Israel military support, they also bolster the Israeli government by sending out a strong message of political support.

Arms sales and military collaboration fuel the cycle of war. When a government sells weapons it can not absolve itself of responsibility for what happens when they are used.  That's why an immediate end to military co-operation and an embargo of all arms sales to and from Israel is essential.

An embargo would mean that UK arms companies would no longer profit from the misery of the Palestinians, and that the arms which the UK buys have not been “tested” on the Palestinians living under Occupation. Just as importantly, it would set a crucial and long overdue precedent by sending a strong message that people in the UK do not support the actions of the Israeli government and the collective punishment of Gaza. 

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade and tweets at @caatorguk.

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As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge