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High Court dismisses case challenging export of British weapons to Israel; lawyers launch challenge to overturn.
19، Feb 2024

The decision comes as Israel continues its brutal assault on trapped civilians in Rafah, plans for further forced displacement of Gaza’s population and restricts humanitarian aid.

The decision to dismiss the case, comes after thousands of pages of evidence of Israeli violations were filed before the High Court. On 6 December, Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq and U.K. based Global Legal Action Network (GLAN) initiated legal proceedings against the UK to suspend arms sales to Israel due to grave breaches of international law and UK rules. GLAN and Al-Haq are now seeking to overturn this decision and intend to apply for oral hearing with the Court to review the dismissal so the case can proceed. The case details indiscriminate attacks on civilians, destruction of infrastructure critical for survival, starvation, forced displacement and the risk of genocide – a risk now confirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Since 7 October around 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, including over 12,300 children, and tens of thousands more injured and denied basic medical care; a further 8,000 people are missing under the rubble of their destroyed homes. 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 large parts of the Gaza strip to the ground. Protected sites such as hospitals, schools, and food sources have been repeatedly and deliberately targeted by airstrikes and ground forces, and water ‘turned off’.

Several other states have stopped, or been court ordered to stop, weapons exports to Israel including Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. The Dutch court found a 'clear risk' that parts for F-35 bomber jets, the same jets that the UK also supplies components for, are being used in “serious violations of international humanitarian law” by Israel. In addition, the ICJ found on 26 January that there is a plausible risk that genocide is occurring in Gaza. In response to the ICJ’s order, Japanese company Itochu Corporation announced that it will end its partnership with Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems by the end of February considering ‘the Japanese government support for the Court’.

Despite the ICJ finding that there is a plausible risk that genocide is occurring in Gaza, and other countries halting weapons sales, this decision by the UK courts places them out of step with a growing international consensus. In addition to the crimes of forced displacement, deliberate attacks on civilians and starvation of the population, statements made by Israel’s leadership have made clear their intent, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant ordered ‘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’; and Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, said, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible” referring to Palestinians in Gaza.

In its response to our case, the government admitted that the Foreign Office assessment unit advised Foreign Secretary David Cameron they had “serious concerns” that Israel had breached international humanitarian law (IHL), and highlighted concerns over its willingness to comply with IHL, including its obligation not to arbitrarily deny access to humanitarian assistance. Despite this, Cameron made a ministerial decision to recommend continuing weapons exports.

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 £487 million in limited value ‘standard’ licence grants, and 58 unlimited value ‘open’ licences. The categories include components for military support and combat aircraft, naval vessel components, military communications equipment, military electronic equipment, components for military radars and targeting equipment, components for military aircraft displays and unmanned air vehicles, 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, it’s inconceivable that there could be no ‘clear risk’ under the Strategic Licensing Criteria in these circumstances, meaning the government should not be issuing these licences.

Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of Al Haq said “The government's decision to continue supplying Israel with weapons to continue its military aggression against men, women and children in Gaza is effectively arming Israel to completely decimate the Gaza Strip, reducing Gaza’s vital civilian infrastructure to rubble. This court order comes three weeks after the International Court of Justice ruled in the Hague that Israel is plausibly committing acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip and for the Israeli military to stop with immediate effect its genocidal acts.”

Siobhan Allen, GLAN Senior Lawyer said, “The Court’s decision that it is not arguable that the government got their risk assessment wrong to an unlawful degree is difficult to reconcile with the interim ruling of the ICJ. We will be asking for a hearing to review this decision and are confident that the court will see it differently and Al Haq’s claim can proceed.”

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.

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, 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 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 U.K.-based legal non-profit organisation with offices in the U.K. 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. | Contact: Abbi Casey for GLAN and Al-Haq press requests [email protected]