Why the UK must stop selling weapons to Israel

There’s a real risk that British-made weapons are being used to commit war crimes in Gaza. The government should enforce its own laws and stop weapons exports to Israel.


Greenpeace is calling for the UK to immediately suspend the sale of weapons that might be used by the Israeli Army in Gaza and the West Bank. This is known as an export ban or arms embargo.

We’re also calling for the UK to back an international ban on the sale of weapons to all armed groups involved in the conflict including Hamas, and the release of hostages and all illegally detained prisoners.

Greenpeace is joining Amnesty International, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and many others in speaking out on this issue.

This article explains the context for our demands, and why Greenpeace is getting involved.

The bombing of Gaza is a human and environmental catastrophe

The Israel-Palestine conflict has a long and complex history. But the current phase began with the horrific October 7th attacks by Hamas. This prompted the Israeli government to invade Gaza. The conflict has already claimed over 33,000 lives and left nearly two million people displaced. Hamas is still holding Israeli civilians hostage.

The humanitarian catastrophe is accompanied by massive environmental destruction. The bombing of Gaza has left rivers of sewage, dirty, undrinkable water, contaminated land, and toxic air. Experts are warning that the conflict will leave the land uninhabitable.

British-made weapons may be being used in war crimes

Israel’s military relies on weapons and other support from its allies, including the UK. The UK government has licensed at least £489m worth of military equipment exports to Israel since 2015, according to the nonprofit group Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT).

Licensed exports include components for: utility helicopters, armoured personnel carriers, naval vessels and F-35 fighter jets, which are dropping bombs on Gaza.

Leaving aside the immorality of companies profiting from the conflict, there is a real risk these weapons are being used to break international law. In January, the International Court of Justice found that that Israel could be breaking international humanitarian law under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Since then, things have only worsened, but the government is sticking to its position that an export ban isn’t justified.

An April hearing in a court case brought by Global Legal Action Network and Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq revealed that the government hadn’t considered any possible violations from the last three months in their decision to keep exporting arms to Israel. As the Israeli military poised to attack the city of Rafah, even the UK’s deputy foreign minister admitted that the attack would break international law.

This suggests there is a clear risk UK arms could be used in breaches of International Law, that means they should not be exported.

What the UK government should do

Simply put, the government should follow its own rules.

Under UK and international law, they’re already obliged to halt weapons exports to any country where there is a risk they might be used in war crimes.

According to a letter and legal opinion signed by more than 600 lawyers, academics and retired senior judges, that should mean preventing weapons exports to Israel.

This isn’t a new idea. The UK has suspended weapons sales to Israel before, during less severe conflicts.

In 2009 the UK suspended arms licences for equipment likely to be used in Gaza. In 2014, the Conservative-led government compiled a list of weapons likely to be used in Gaza and said their sale would be suspended if hostilities resumed in Gaza “as a precautionary step”. This is exactly the kind of step we are proposing here.

And in this conflict, other countries are already taking action. The Netherlands, Spain, Canada, Belgium and Italy have all moved to suspend arms sales and military support to Israel. And even the US paused a shipment of bombs to Israel in early May, over human rights concerns.

An export ban could have a big impact

This wouldn’t just be a symbolic move. An arms embargo could prevent more death and destruction and emphasise the importance of upholding international law and protecting civilians.

Compared to other countries like the US, British arms exports to Israel are fairly small. But the impact of an export ban would go beyond the weapons themselves.

The strong ties between the two nations mean the debate in the UK is closely watched in military and political circles. Even a visible show of public support for a ban wouldn’t go unnoticed, especially with similar moves being made by the US. 

It is one of the most tangible things the UK can do to add to the pressure for peace and – crucially – the maintenance of international humanitarian law in Gaza and around the world.

Why Greenpeace is speaking out

Gaza today is this: it is seven spoiled months, almost an entire school year gone. It is the displacement of nearly two million innocent people. It is an entire city in rubble, with no access to clean water, food, or medicine for Palestinians.

Greenpeace is best known for its environmental campaigns. But the word peace is right there in our name; we campaign for a green and peaceful world because we know you can’t have one without the other. Any environmental solution that doesn’t respect human rights is ultimately doomed to fail.

This isn’t the first time Greenpeace has spoken out in a time of conflict. Most recently we projected a giant message of peace on Tower Bridge in London, as part of our work on the war in Ukraine.

Looking further back, we opposed the Iraq War in the UK, and exposed dangerous UK-Saudi arms links, while our Spanish office campaigned against weapons exports to Saudi Arabia.

That said, people come to Greenpeace with all kinds of priorities and perspectives, and we encourage everyone to focus on the campaigns that best fit their passions and skills. So while we think this work is important, we know it won’t be for everyone.

To learn more about arms exports to Israel and take action, visit the Campaign Against the Arms Trade website. Or head to our Take Action page to explore Greenpeace’s other campaigns.