Thursday, 11 June 2009

Harry Gilonis writing to Bill Rammell MP

Bill Rammell MP
Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street

Dear Mr Rammell,

I'm aware that clinging to power, and perhaps to your own job/seat, are going to take priority over any other wider concerns, but I really can't let recent government-issued nonsense, which cites you by name, pass by unnoticed.

I was among many signatories to a recent electronic petition asking the Prime Minister to "do everything in his power to impose an arms embargo on
Israel in light of the recent Israeli offensive in the Gaza strip and to apply pressure on countries supplying Israel with arms that breach
international agreements with the intention of restoring lasting peace to the region".

As e-mails to the Prime Minister's Office are limited to a 1000-character maximum (government by Twitter cannot be far behind), I am writing to you.

The PM's Office's response to that petition ( follows, with my observations interleaved:

A recent Amnesty International report confirmed that Britain is not a major arms exporter to Israel

Amnesty' chief focus is political prisoners. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade - surely the people who should be referenced here? - contradict that:

"The UK has consistently sold arms to Israel. Over recent years it has licensed arms exports worth between £10 million and £25 million per year. Figures available for the first nine months of 2008 show that, three-quarters of the way through the year, arms worth over £27 million had been approved for export to Israel" [See:]

and, as Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said to the Foreign Affairs Committee on 4 March, the UK regularly turns down arms requests from Israel. Each export licence request is assessed on a case-by-case basis and conduct in recent conflicts is always taken into account.

It is hard to square that with the fact that the UK is still approving weaponry - or components for weaponry - for export. Sir John Stanley (of the House of Commons Committee on Arms Export Controls) made the point to you personally just last April: "the key issue is whether or not the use that was made of British-made weapons systems and components in the recent conflicts, in Lebanon and most particularly in Gaza, did or did not represent a breach of the EU consolidated criteria." []

We do not believe that the current situation in the Middle East would be improved by imposing an arms embargo on Israel. Israel has the right to defend itself and faces real security threats.

That applies far more to Palestine, which does not have one of the largest and best-equipped armed forces in the world. The inhabitants of Gaza have stones - and a handful of home-made rockets which are scarcely more effective than stones in terms of casualties inflicted. (Israeli soldiers killed more Israeli soldiers last year than such rockets killed Israeli civilians.)

However, we will not grant export licences where there is a clear risk that arms will be used for external aggression or internal repression.

The precise criteria referred to by David Miliband (still Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs this week) are as follows:

"Criterion 2 (we will not issue an export licence where there is a clear risk that the export might be used for internal repression), criterion 3 (we will
not issue licences for exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of
final destination), criterion 4 (preservation of regional peace, security and stability), and criterion 7 (the risk that the equipment will be
diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions). [Quoted at:]

Of these it is evident to the least-informed eye that only 7 isn't breached by the UK. David Miliband himself has said that UK components have ended up in F16 combat aircraft, Apache attack helicopters, Saar-Class corvettes and armoured personnel carriers. [Quoted at:]

More generally, the government is fully committed to the implementation of a two-state solution. There must be a viable Palestinian state existing, in peace, alongside a secure Israel.

Then why is the UK denying recognition to the democratically-elected government of Gaza?

We will continue to work with our international partners, including the new US Administration, to pursue vigorously a comprehensive and just peace in the Middle East

- whilst spending shed-loads of money arming one side in the conflict and talking about sending warships to stop any aid of any kind reaching the other ...
This is not merely pusillanimous, it is sickening.

Yours sincerely,
Harry Gilonis

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