Senior UK jurists have joined calls to stop arms sales to Israel. Other allies face similar pressure

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses the media at Downing Street in London, on March 1, 2024. Britain’s main opposition parties are demanding that the Conservative government publish legal advice it has received on whether Israel has broken international humanitarian law during the war in Gaza. They say the U.K. should ban weapons sales to Israel if the law has been broken. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

People on Tuesday inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

LONDON — More than 600 British jurists, including three retired judges from the U.K. Supreme Court, are calling on the government to suspend arms sales to Israel, piling pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after the deaths of three U.K. aid workers in an Israeli strike.

Britain is just one of a number of Israel’s longstanding allies whose governments are under growing pressure to halt weapons exports because of the toll of the six-month-old war in Gaza.


In an open letter to Sunak published late Wednesday, the lawyers and judges said the U.K. could be complicit in “grave breaches of international law” if it continues to ship weapons.

Signatories, including former Supreme Court President Brenda Hale, said Britain is legally obliged to heed the International Court of Justice’s conclusion that there is a “plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza.

The letter said the “sale of weapons and weapons systems to Israel … falls significantly short of your government’s obligations under international law.”

Britain is a staunch ally of Israel, but relations have been tested by the mounting death toll, largely civilian, from the war. Calls for an end to arms exports have escalated since an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers from the aid charity World Central Kitchen, three of them British.

Israel says the attack on the aid workers was a mistake caused by “misidentification.”

The U.K.’s main opposition parties have all said the Conservative government should halt weapons sales to Israel if the country has broken international law in Gaza.

Several senior Conservatives have urged the same.

Sunak has not committed to an arms export ban, but said Wednesday that “while of course we defend Israel’s right to defend itself and its people against attacks from Hamas, they have to do that in accordance with international humanitarian law.”

British firms sell a relatively small amount of weapons and components to Israel. Defense Secretary Grant Shapps has said that military exports to Israel amounted to 42 million pounds ($53 million) in 2022.

Other allies of Israel are also facing calls to cut off the supply of weapons and to push for a cease-fire in the conflict.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Thursday that his country had stopped selling weapons to Israel, and urged other nations to do the same. Sanchez said Wednesday that his government has left “the door open” to diplomatic actions against Israel over its “insufficient” explanation of the aid workers’ deaths.

In February, Canada announced it would stop future shipments, and the same month a Dutch court ordered the Netherlands to stop the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel. The Dutch government said it would appeal.

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