(extracted from the Observer, 12th February)
For decades the UK and Saudi Arabia have quietly enjoyed a symbiotic relationship centred on the exchange of oil for weapons. Analysis of HM Revenue and Customs figures by Greenpeace EnergyDesk shows that in 2015 83% of UK arms exports – almost £900m – went to Saudi Arabia. Over the same period, the UK imported £900m of oil from the kingdom.
Now this relationship has come under scrutiny as a result of a judicial review brought by Campaign against Arms Trade (CAAT), which has set alarm bells ringing in Whitehall.
The case follows concerns that a coalition of Saudi-led forces may have been using UK-manufactured weapons in violation of international humanitarian law during their ongoing bombardment of Yemen.
The UK’s defence industry makes about 20% of arms exported globally. In recent years Ministry of Defence cutbacks have led to the sector looking abroad for new sales, and the government, with one eye on the post-Brexit landscape, is keen on the strategy. In January, Theresa May heralded a £100m deal involving the UK defence giant BAE and the Turkish military, and many defence experts see this as a sign of things to come.
Thousands have died in the Yemen campaign, with the Saudis accused of targeting civilians. Four-fifths of the population is in need of aid, and famine is gripping the country. But despite this, and protests from human rights groups and the United Nations, the UK has continued to arm the Saudi regime, licensing about £3.3bn of weapons to the kingdom since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.
Far from leading to a flourishing of democracy across authoritarian countries, the political turmoil of the ‘Arab Spring’ more than six years ago caused many of those countries to descend into chaos. In the immediate aftermath of the uprisings, the UK parliament’s committee on arms export controls concluded that “both the present government and its predecessor misjudged the risk that arms approved for export to certain authoritarian countries in north Africa and the Middle East might be used for internal repression”.
“The 2011 uprisings should have caused countries like the UK to re-evaluate how they do business with the Middle East and north Africa, but they did no such thing,” said Andrew Smith of CAAT. “The arms sales have increased, even where the repression is getting worse.”
In the years leading up to the Arab spring, the UK sold those countries £41.3m of small arms, £7m of ammunition and £34.3m of armoured vehicles. In the five years following the events of 2011, these figures, compiled by CAAT, had risen sharply to an annual average of £58.9m, £14m and £59.6m respectively. In some cases sales skyrocketed. UK exports of small arms, ammunition and armoured vehicles to the United Arab Emirates jumped from £18.3m to £93.2m, to Qatar from £2.3m to £33.4m, and to Egypt from £2.5m to £34.7m.
On Christmas Eve 2014, the Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood welcomed the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty, saying “This treaty sets common international standards for arms export controls, and puts international law and human rights at the heart of the global arms trade”.
But internal Whitehall emails, released as part of the latest court case, reveal the alarm in the Foreign Office, MoD and the Department for Business as mandarins realised the extent to which the government’s commitment to the treaty and other legal obligations would be subject to forensic analysis by the judicial review. They confirm that the government came within hours of suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia over concerns that there was a risk they breached international humanitarian law.
A memo, marked “sensitive” and written by an MoD civil servant, revealed that the then business secretary, Sajid Javid, wanted the exports stopped. Dated 12 February 2016, it noted he “has indicated that he will suspend exports if he does not have cross-government agreement [by the end of the day]”. The day before, Edward Bell, head of the government’s export control unit, sent an email saying his gut instinct was to suspend, “given acknowledged gaps in knowledge about Saudi operations”. Surprisingly, Javid dropped his opposition to the exports continuing, having secured the backing of both the foreign secretary and the defence secretary for his decision.
The High Court ruling, expected in a couple of months, has potential implications for exports to Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition, which include Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Qatar. Anything that threatens arms exports to these countries would be a setback for the UK’s commercial and geopolitical ambitions.
As we reported in the February issue of Kingston Peace News, the United Nations will convene negotiations in 2017 on “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.
The international community has united before to ban biological and chemical weapons, land mines and cluster bombs. This new international agreement will place nuclear weapons on the same legal footing as other weapons of mass destruction.
The negotiations will take place at UN head-quarters in New York from 27 to 31 March and from 15 June to 7 July, with the participation of governments, international organisations and civil society representatives.
However, despite the treaty negotiations receiving the backing of 120 countries, the UK voted against and has not indicated whether it will attend the talks in New York.
CND has just published a new report looking into why Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, actually makes us unsafe, rather than protecting us as the government claims.
The recent news of a misfired nuclear missile, the ensuing government cover-up, and sustained silence about a serious accident, was only one indication of a wider truth: our decision makers haven't got a grip on the truth about Trident.
This report looks into the many ways that Trident fails to protect us, with quotes from experts. The nuclear weapons system is vulnerable to emerging underwater drone technology; one of the unique selling points - that they are undetectable under water - soon won't exist. Our report also shows why it is vulnerable to cyber attack and why it's not an independent system.
The report can be downloaded from http://cnduk.org/images/stories/Security_not_Trident_report.pdf
Read CND General Secretary Kate Hudson’s blog – ‘Trident Is Unsafe, And It’s Not Just The Misfired Missiles’ at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-kate-hudson/trident_b_14636662.html
At a press conference in Washington with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel on 15th February, President Donald Trump declared that the United States would no longer insist on the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Mr. Trump promised a concerted effort to bring the two sides together, suggesting a regional effort involving an array of Arab nations. But he said that he was flexible about how an agreement would look and that he would not be bound by past assumptions. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state” formulations, Mr. Trump said. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”
At the same time, he urged Mr. Netanyahu temporarily to stop new housing construction in the West Bank while he pursues a deal. “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit,” he told Mr. Netanyahu.
The idea of an independent Palestinian state comprising the West Bank and Gaza became the central theme of Middle East peacemaking in the 1990s after the Oslo Accords were signed. Bill Clinton was the first president to endorse a two-state solution, saying in a speech in January 2001, just two weeks before leaving office, that the conflict would never be settled without “a sovereign, viable Palestinian state.” His successor, George W. Bush, made it official American policy and Barack Obama considered a two-state solution fundamental to Washington’s approach.
However, Israeli and Palestinian leaders face domestic difficulties. Mr. Netanyahu is under pressure from his right-leaning coalition to abandon the two-state solution and even annex parts of the West Bank. And the Palestinian Authority faces pressure from Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. Mr. Trump did not address these problems, instead emphasising that Israel would have to be flexible in any future talks. “As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises,” he said. Turning to Mr. Netanyahu, he asked, “You know that, right?” Mr. Netanyahu responded with a smile. “Both sides,” he said.
Mr. Trump has picked as his ambassador to Israel a lawyer, David M. Friedman, who opposes the two-state solution. He did not repeat his campaign vow to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, saying only, “I’d love to see that happen” and, “We’ll see what happens.”
By Ben Jamal, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign
This week Donald Trump appeared to abandon US support for a two-state solution during an incoherent and ambiguous press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Yet the intentions of Netanyahu and his coalition partners are perfectly clear. Since the UN passed Resolution 2334, which called upon Israel to cease settlement building, Israel has responded by announcing the building of 6000 more settlement units and passing the so-called “Regularization Bill”, legalising settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land.
These actions, and Netanyahu’s comments at the press conference, make clear that Israel intends to proceed at pace with settler-colonialism and intends to deny all claims to Palestinian self-determination.
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett put it concisely in his tweeted response to Trump's press conference: "the Palestinian flag has been taken off the flagpole and was replaced with the Israeli flag.
So how do we respond to these developments?
Firstly, we reaffirm that it is for Palestinians to decide how they wish their right to self-determination to be enacted.
Secondly we reaffirm that a respect for human rights and equality under the law demands a recognition that no democratic state can privilege the rights of one group of citizens over another based on ethnicity, culture or religion. If there is to be one state then the choice is clear - apartheid, or equal rights in a single democratic state.
Thirdly that it is only pressure from outside in the form of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that will shift decision-making inside Israel.
On 4th Feb, I spoke at a rally of over 40,000 people rallying in opposition to Donald Trump and the plans for him to have a state visit to the UK. My message was clear. Those rallying against Trump’s misogyny, against his ban on Muslims travelling to the US and his racist rhetoric towards Mexicans and other minorities share common cause with us in our campaign against the racism which underpins Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.
As the day’s most popular chant had it: “from Palestine to Mexico, racist walls have to go.
Netanyahu believes the advent of the Trump administration means he can expect the world to stand idly by whilst Palestinian rights are trampled and an apartheid state is entrenched. Our task, day-by-day, week-by-week, is to prove him wrong.
On 22nd January Haneen Zoabi, female Palestinian MK (Member of the Knesset), spoke passionately to a packed hall in Richmond highlighting the farce of "Israeli democracy" as it applies (or doesn't) to the Palestinian population inside Israel itself.
Haneen serves as a member of the Joint List, the Palestinian parties which work together to increase representation for Palestinians in Israel's Parliament. She emphasised that although the Palestinians have been given Israeli citizenship, they cannot give up their Palestinian identity. In the 1948 Naqba, 85% of the Palestinian population was expelled from their homes, so that they now own only 2% of the land they owned in 1948. They must therefore continue the struggle to maintain their identity.
During her years in the Knessett she has faced numerous attempts to silence her. In May 2010, Haneen was on board the MV Mavi Marmara in the Gaza flotilla when violence broke out as Israeli commandos boarded the ship. She was arrested and briefly held by authorities. In a speech at the Knesset a day after her release, Haneen called the raid a "pirate military operation" and asked for an international investigation. The Knesset reacted aggressively and decided to strip her of certain parliamentary privileges as a penalty for her participation in the flotilla. In 2011 the case against her was closed because of “significant evidentiary and legal difficulties”.
In February 2016 Haneen was one of three members of the Joint List to be suspended by Israel’s parliamentary ethics committee for visiting the families of slain Palestinians alleged to have participated in attacks against Israelis. The Joint List members were trying to get Israel to return the bodies, which were being kept in custody pending cash guarantees from the families for the fulfilment of certain conditions, including limitations on the size of their funerals.
This action by the Palestinian MKs led to the recent passing of a law which allows a majority of 90 Knesset Members to oust a serving MK on the following three grounds: (1) denial of the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; (2) incitement to racism; and (3) support for armed struggle of an enemy state or a terrorist organization against Israel. This means that the 13 Palestinian members of the Knessett could be expelled, because it is impossible for them to recognise Israel as a Jewish and democratic state – democracy means the rule of the majority, and this could only be achieved by ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.
Haneen called on us all to publicise and challenge the injustice of Israel’s apartheid state and the erosion of the human rights of the Palestinians within that state.
 This is just one of more than 60 Israeli laws (see https://www.adalah.org/en/law/index ) enacted since 1948 that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life – they are not even allowed by the education system to study their own history.
 The crime of apartheid is defined legally as "committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."
by Shaughan Dolan of Conscience, January 11th, 2017
In 2016 we marked the centenary of the Military Service Act by calling on the government to extend the definition of conscientious objection for the 21st Century.
This cause was taken up by Ruth Cadbury MP who with the support of her Parliamentary colleagues moved the Taxes for Peace Bill, legislation that if passed would enable all citizens who define as conscientious objectors to redirect the military portions of their taxes to non-violent means of ensuring our national security.
We were delighted that it passed its first reading in the House of Commons – a fantastic achievement for the Conscience campaign. Unfortunately, although the Bill was scheduled for debate on the 2nd of December, Parliament ran out of time for the Bill to be debated. This in most cases, usually means the Bill will never be debated.
But we have very important news - the Bill has been rescheduled for 24th March 2017. This by no means ensures that it will be given Parliamentary time BUT if we can contact enough MPs and persuade them this Bill is of significant importance to their constituents we can press Parliament into giving the Bill the debate it deserves.
The Taxes for Peace Bill is the next step forward in the future of fully recognising the human rights of conscientious objectors.
Will you write to your MP about the Conscience Campaign in support of the Bill?
Please send us* copies of your communications with MPs – it helps us better co-ordinate campaigning! And please sign the e-petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/166611 to force the government to respond!
* Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Conscience, 17 North Square, Hampstead Garden Suburb, NW11 7AD
This Conference on 14th January was organised by London Region CND in conjunction with SOAS CND, following on from the LRCND AGM. One of the speakers in the plenary session “The Impact of US Security Strategy” was Keith Bennett, former editor of the Asian Times, who gave a rather depressing view of US policy under Trump.
He said that in 2017 there is an emerging pattern of very dangerous developments between three nuclear powers – the US, Russia and China. The US had ‘pivoted to Asia’ under Obama. 60% of US naval forces were being sent there to confront China and the US had involved itself in the South China Sea issue. But relations with Russia had worsened and there could have been a direct clash between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
Trump, but not all his appointees, appears soft on Russia while he has been consistent in his extreme hostility to China, saying it was stealing American jobs and ‘raping’ the USA. An extremely serious development emerged when Trump’s Secretary of State said that China must stop building islands in the South China Sea and then must be prevented from accessing them. This represents a serious threat because “short of going to war with China there is nothing the Americans can do”.
Keith said that Trump is not stupid, and it’s a mistake to think he is. Whatever he says, NATO is fundamental to the US, but he is trying to get others to pay more. He intends further militarisation. His naval expansion plans are designed to confront China. Although the end of the Cold War was meant to lead to a ‘Peace Dividend’, there has been a growing danger of a clash between nuclear powers. That makes the work of CND and others more vital than ever.
Acknowledgement to LRCND’s ‘Peaceline’
Our Annual General Meeting on 8th February was held as usual in the Kingston Quaker Centre, and thanks were expressed to the Quakers for allowing us to use their Committee Room for our meetings throughout the year.
Activities throughout the year included:
The Challenging Road to Peace since WW1 exhibition in All Saints Church and the subsequent talk by Rupert Gude;
continued campaigning on Trident including the parliamentary lobby;
attending marches and demos;
twice monthly stalls in Kingston;
Peace Day & peace assemblies in schools;
and last but not least, brilliant fundraising which means that KPC is able to help support a number of organisations working for peace and other good causes.
Gill Hurle presented the accounts and the group’s regular standing orders & affiliations were accepted and will continue as in 2016.
Maggie Rees was thanked for her great contribution to fundraising and Carol Clisby was thanked for auditing the accounts.
The accounts were accepted.
We have not had a secretary for several years, and Noel Hamel resigned as Chair during the past year. It was agreed that managing without a designated Chair & Secretary might not be ideal but seemed to work - as long as members were prepared to take turns at chairing meetings and take on jobs as they arose.
The following positions were confirmed:
Treasurer/Membership Secretary – Gill Hurle;
Fundraising Co-ordinator – Maggie Rees;
Literature Secretary – Rosemary Addington;
Press Officer – Phil Cooper, who was also asked to act as a contact & spokesperson for the group when needed and he agreed to take on this;
KPN Editors – Rosemary, Gill & Phil but anyone who would volunteer to edit an issue occasionally would be much appreciated;
Stall Organiser – Angie Cooper;
Webmaster – Charles Wicksteed;
Schools Liaison Officer – Mary Holmes.
We aim to have a speaker every 2 or 3 months;
continue with the schools programme and try to get more secondary schools involved;
plan a session when KPC members can consider the best ways of dealing with standard questions raised by members of the public, for example on Trident & nuclear weapons, on the stall and just in day to day life. We shall arrange to set aside half an hour for this in our April meeting. Members would be reminded by email to bring to the meeting any books or leaflets they had found helpful in putting the case, so they could share these resources with others.
The idea of a visit to the Palestine Museum in Bristol had been warmly welcomed.
Interest was also expressed in a visit to the Peace Museum in Bradford.
Watch this space for further details!
Kingston Peace Council/CND members would like to express their thanks to Charles Wicksteed for his continued maintenance of our website. We are extremely grateful.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND