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Legal and human rights groups take UK government to High Court over arms exports to Israel
06، Dec 2023

Legal submission comes as Israel policies explicitly call for collective punishment and forced displacement of Gaza’s trapped population; enacts ever more aggressive settlement activity in the West Bank

Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq and UK-based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) have commenced legal proceedings against the UK after written requests to suspend arms sales to Israel due to grave breaches of international law and UK rules were repeatedly ignored. The filed papers detail indiscriminate attacks on civilians, destruction of infrastructure critical for their survival -including hospitals, bakeries, (UNRWA) schools where displaced people sheltered, food storages and water reserves- starvation, forced displacement and the increasing risk of genocide. The action is supported by the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) and a press briefing was held (details below) with GLAN, Al-Haq and ICJP and with Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and a member from Oxfam.

Since 7 October over 13,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, around half of whom were children. Under the UK government’s Strategic Licensing Criteria, weapons may not be exported where there is a clear risk they might be used in serious violations of international law. Israel’s policies and actions have resulted in widespread indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilians, killing thousands and levelling entire neighbourhoods to the ground. Protected sites such as hospitals, schools, and food sources have been repeatedly and deliberately targeted by airstrikes.

Israel has also ordered the forced displacement of over 1.6 million Gazans; the UN stated this transfer would have ‘devastating humanitarian consequences’.

Statements by Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant make clear these are reprisal attacks against civilians, ordering ‘a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly’. In the context of ordering the evacuation of northern Gaza, he also stated the aim is to ‘change the face of reality in Gaza 50 years ahead’. An IDF spokesperson openly admitted that, in the large-scale bombardment of Gaza, Israel’s ‘emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy’ and an unnamed Israeli official told local media that Gaza would be reduced to a ‘city of tents’ by the end of the campaign. Legal experts have even suggested these statements demonstrate genocidal intent to destroy Palestinians as a national group.

On 16 November, UN experts made a statement calling on the international community to prevent genocide against the Palestinian people, saying, ‘Grave violations committed by Israel against Palestinians in the aftermath of 7 October, particularly in Gaza, point to a genocide in the making’.

 The Israeli regime violates most of the fundamental human rights of Palestinians. It imposes a comprehensive system of apartheid in occupied Palestinian territory, including constructing a separation barrier (or 'Apartheid Wall') and illegal settlements which the ICJ has declared illegal; its soldiers regularly shoot unarmed civilians with live ammunition; it constantly monitors the Palestinian population and impedes their movement through dozens of checkpoints and advanced technology; it destroys Palestinian property and moves its own population into occupied territory. This brutality against Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem has only worsened since 7th October.

The UK government has granted licences for the sale of British weapons to Israel under a wide range of categories in recent years. For example, since 2015 there has been £472 million in limited value ‘standard’ licence grants, and 58 unlimited value ‘open’ licences. The categories include body armour, military communications equipment, military electronic equipment, components for military radars and targeting equipment, components for military aircraft displays and unmanned air vehicles, components for military support and combat aircraft, naval vessel components, and much more. Given that these items are all capable of being used in Israel’s actions against Palestinians, many of which are criminal acts under international criminal law, there is plainly a ‘clear risk’ under the Strategic Licensing Criteria meaning the government should not be issuing these licences.

GLAN has launched a crowdfund to support this work. Al-Haq is represented by GLAN lawyers Dearbhla Minogue, Siobhán Allen and Charlotte Andrews-Briscoe, and Alice Hardy of Bindmans LLP. Their counsel are Victoria Wakefield KC and Jagoda Klimowicz of Brick Court Chambers, and Luke Tattersall of Essex Court Chambers.

Dearbhla Minogue, Senior Lawyer at GLAN, said: ‘No self-respecting State should allow its weapons anywhere near the atrocities that Israel is currently committing against the entire population of Gaza. These licenses are outrageous, and I am curious to see how the UK government will defend itself before the High Court.”

Ahmed Abofoul, an international lawyer at Al-Haq, said: ‘The UK has a legal and moral obligation to not grant licences for the sale of British weapons to regimes that commit atrocity crimes. Selling arms to Israel’s settler colonial and apartheid regime not only violates those obligations but could also give rise to the individual criminal responsibility for aiding, abetting or otherwise assisting in the commission of these crimes, including by providing the means for its commission.'

Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, Director of GLAN said, ‘The humanitarian situation in Gaza is the result of numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity committed over time. Recent statements by Israeli military leaders now obligates states to review their transfer of arms. There should be no doubt that these weapons are at acute risk of being used to commit further criminal acts and, possibly genocide.’

Notes to editor:


A press briefing pre-filing was held with Al-Haq, GLAN and supporting partners. The recording can be viewed here:

Passcode: F$1tmUM3

Panellists (in order of speaking)

  • Chair - Dr Gearóid Ó Cuinn, Director, Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
  • Ahmed Abofoul, Legal Researcher and Advocacy Officer, Al-Haq
  • Siobhán Allen, Senior Lawyer, Global Legal Action Network (GLAN)
  • Ilora Choudhury, Senior In House Legal Counsel, International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP)
  • Katie Fallon, Advocacy Manager, Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)
  • Bushra Khalidi, Policy Lead, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Oxfam
  • Q&A with all the above plus Dearbhla Minogue, Senior Lawyer, Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) and Alice Hardy, Partner, Bindmans LLP



UK arms exports to Israel information:

Al-Haq is an independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Ramallah, West Bank. It was established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), and the organisation has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Al-Haq documents violations of the individual and collective rights of Palestinians especially in the OPT and in doing so it conducts research; prepares reports, studies and interventions on breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law in the OPT; and undertakes advocacy before local, regional and international bodies. For its work protecting and promoting human rights, Al-Haq has been awarded numerous international awards.

Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) is a UK-based legal non-profit organisation with offices in the UK and Ireland. GLAN works with affected communities to pursue innovative legal actions across borders to challenge powerful actors involved in human rights violations and systemic injustice.  

International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) is an independent organisation of lawyers, politicians and academics who aim to protect and support the rights of Palestinians wherever they live by protecting their rights through the law.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) is a UK-based organisation working to end the international arms trade. The arms business has a devastating impact on human rights and security, and damages economic development. In seeking to end the arms trade, CAAT’s priorities are to stop the procurement or export of arms where they might exacerbate conflict or support an oppressive regime, and to promote progressive demilitarisation within arms-producing countries.