Israel has a long history of selling arms for violent conflicts all over the world. Israel sold weapons to Rwanda during the genocide, to South Africa during Apartheid, and to Serbia during the Balkan wars. Today, Israeli defense industry companies maintain business relations with those responsible for the mass murder in South Sudan, coordinated with and marketed by the Israeli government. Since December 2013, a bloody civil war has been raging in the new state. According to human rights organizations, over 2.5 million civilians have been displaced due to the fighting, over half of the population is in need of humanitarian aid, tens of thousands have been murdered, and hundreds of villages have been burned down. In the South Sudan conflict, rape is used as a weapon, with both sides regularly targeting women. Over 16,000 children have been forcibly conscripted, now constituting a major part of the fighting forces. In 2014, European countries declared a weapons embargo on South Sudan, the United States suspended military aid to the country, and many other countries now refuse to sell arms for the bloody mass murder of civilians there. In November, the United Nations declared the conflict in South Sudan might become a genocide. Israel reports to the UN Register of Conventional Arms that there are only 5 states it exports arms to, but in practice, recent decades have seen Israel export arms to some 130 different states around the world. Obscuring information about these sales is no accident, and one may assume that many Israelis would raise an eyebrow regarding the destinations of some of these arms deals, and the uses Israeli arms see there. Such is the case with South Sudan, where “Galil” rifles have been sighted in the fighting on multiple occasions. The Ministry of Defense, as well as many high-ranking Israelis, take pride in the extensive relations with the South Sudanese government. Representatives from South Sudan, including official acquisition delegations, often visit defense industry exhibitions and conventions, such as the ISDF, or the HLS conference held last month in the Tel Aviv Convention Center. Israel is involved not only in heavily arming South Sudan, but also in training the state’s military forces (forces which include child soldiers.) In May 2015 MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) queried Defense Minister Ya’alon regarding the legality of defense exports to South Sudan, due to the reasonable concern that the exports might be used to commit war crimes. After her query went unanswered, Zandberg appealed to the High Court of Justice in 2016 together with Atty. Itay Mack against exporting an Israeli surveillance system to South Sudan. In 2016 the State of Israel asked to make the appeal confidential, and the proceedings have subsequently been held behind closed doors.
For years, and especially since the second Intifada, thousands of representatives of US law enforcement agencies visit Israel each year as part of various delegations and training programs. During these visits they meet with representatives of Israeli police and learn about tactics for policing an occupied population, visiting places like Rachel’s Tomb, Hebron, East Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion International Airport. The training is conducted by private companies and associations, together with Israeli Police and the Ministry of Defense. Associations and private companies (Taglit – Birthright, the Anti-Defamation League, JINSA, GILEE) organize the training because Israel is considered a world leader in the area, or as one Washington D.C. Police Chief put it, “the Harvard of counter-terrorism,” which many can learn from. While the associations represent various different world-views, they all have a strong pro-Israel agenda tinting the training programs with Hasbara. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a longstanding Jewish organization which fights against anti-semitism and expressions of racism. Since 2004, the ADL has sent over 200 high-ranking representatives and 100,000 officers of U.S. law enforcement agencies for training in Israel, representing over 100 different agencies. The training involves a week-long seminar in Israel and meetings with representatives of police, military, and intelligence agencies, as well as training on terror attack prevention and response, the evolution of terrorist activities and tactics, leadership under terror, intelligence collection and information sharing, using technology in the war on terror, balancing crime-fighting and counter-terrorism, and more. “This program […] is designed to help American law enforcement executives gain a firsthand understanding of the impact of terrorism on civil society and allow them to interact directly with their Israeli police peers,” their website states. It is absurd that an organization which claims to work against racism seeks to import law enforcement practices from Israeli security forces while ignoring the violence enacted on Palestinians – an absurdity of Israeli “Hasbara.” The police officers who come to Israel learn how to rule over an occupied people, how to see the Arab public as an enemy. In 2011, the Chief of St. Louis police, Timothy Fitch, joined an ADL delegation to a national counter-terrorism seminar which included a week-long visit to Israel for the purpose of tactical and strategic training with Israeli police, conducted by high-ranking officers from Israeli police, security, and intelligence agencies. U.S. legal commentator John Miranda argues that the rising police violence seen in the United States in recent years is clearly linked to the training given to many police officers in Israel since 9/11. According to Miranda, the policemen who go to Israel train their sergeants in the tactics they studied. Rashid Khalidi of the University of Columbia comments on American police militarization following training in Israel: “If American police and sheriffs consider they’re in occupation of neighborhoods like Ferguson and East Harlem, this training is extremely appropriate—they’re learning how to suppress a people, deny their rights and use force to hold down a subject population.”
New firearms in civilian spaces, under conditions of permissive open fire regulations, reduce civilian security rather than increasing it. Since October 2015, the Minister of Public Security has been enacting a new firearms policy to hasten the arming of civilian spaces with firearms and reduce restrictions on its use. This policy has relaxed requirements for license approvals and renewals, reduced the minimum age for licensing, encouraged constant carrying of firearms, and allowed security guards to carry their guns after the end of the workday. According to data provided to the Gun on the Kitchen Table Project, between October 2015 and May 2016 the Ministry of Public Security has approved an addition of 105,700 new firearms in civilian spaces, and 15,700 new carrying licenses. According to the Minister, increased proliferation of firearms is a measure for protecting civilians. In practice, its repercussions are fatal and harmful. According to data collected by the Gun on the Kitchen Table Project, 118 human beings were shot to death during the last three months of 2015, in 166 shooting incidents. At least 10 per cent of those killed were shot by mistake or misidentified as assailants. In other cases, those killed were shot when they could have been arrested (full details are included in a comprehensive report to be published soon.) This data indicates that the new policy permits and encourages shooting to kill. The State Attorney’s office and Israel Police also recently found that “soldiers tamper with scenes of terror attacks in which Palestinian assailants and civilians were shot.” This permissive policy has already cost innocent lives. An addition of almost 100,000 firearms and almost 16,000 licensees in an atmosphere of relaxed restrictions and encouragement to shoot to kill, are a threat to civilian person security, not a protective measure.
Who actually oversees the trade in Israeli arms? Israel is ranked sixth in the world in arms and defense exports, and first in defense exports relative to GDP. The reason such a small country can compete with the economic powerhouses of the USA, Spain, Japan, Britain, or Russia for producing and selling military equipment is related to the experience the Israeli army and Israeli military industries have gained over years of everyday management and control over the civilian populations of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in addition to wars with neighboring countries. Although the military industries produce tremendous profits for the State of Israel, there is no transparent or disciplined system of oversight for defense exports. Lacking oversight on the production of arms, fighting tools, technologies, or military training, these may end up in countries under embargo, or in unwanted hands. Information about the final destination of defense exports, as well as the identities of those involved in the exporting, marketing, and brokering, are hidden from the public. Nor does Israel report honestly to the UN mechanism in charge of overseeing the global arms trade, and Israel is not signatory to any international conventions on the subject. In 2007 the Defense Export Controls Act became Israeli law, with the aim of regulating exports of Israeli arms and stopping them from ending up in the wrong hands. Responsible for the law’s implementation are the Director General of the Ministry of Defense or the Deputy Director heading the Defense Export Control Agency (DECA). The functions and powers of DECA include registering exporters in the defense export registry, issuing marketing and export licenses, providing exporters with guidance, and enforcing the law. DECA often intervenes in deals which may harm Israeli interests with strategic partners (such as the United States), but not when arms may end up in the hands of human rights violators. The problems with the Controls Act have featured in the State Comptroller’s report for several years in a row now. The Comptroller’s central arguments are that the Ministry of Defense does not demand said reports from exporters and most of DECA’s enforcement activity takes place only in response to information received from various parties regarding violations of the law, rather than on an ongoing basis as stipulated by the Controls Act. Additionally, DECA gave the Customs Office only partial information from the approved export licenses, in such a way that the Customs Office cannot optimally fulfil its duties. DECA and the Customs Office also lack the professional manpower with relevant technical knowledge to check the content of shipments and match them with the production documents. There are only three workers charged with enforcing the law for 6,800 exporters and some 1,000 companies listed in the defense exports registry, and some 400,000 marketing and export licenses. The three workers are also responsible for enforcing the law on any Israeli individuals or companies operating without a license. This faulty conduct in export oversight is the price the citizens of Israel pay for what is done in their names. Democratic governance is severely harmed as well, when the Ministry of Defense allows citizens and companies to export deadly weapons with no oversight.
Israel’s defense industry is one of the most extensive in the world, comprising hundreds of private and governmental companies which usually operate with no real government control, despite a law mandating oversight. Every year hundreds of millions of shekels from the defense budget are invested in marketing the defense industry, promoting collaborations with private companies, and positioning the Israeli industry on the global center stage. Some 80 per cent of Israeli defense production is exported, marketed to about 130 different countries. In 2015 this industry’s profits stood at some 5.7 billion US dollars, ranking sixth in the world, or first in arms exports relative to GDP. The Israeli media often presents the defense industries as producing economic profits, progress, and good publicity for Israel worldwide, not asking any questions regarding the economic and human costs of these industries nor working consistently to reveal the many cases of corruption in this area. Many times, the Israeli media air advertising and marketing materials about these various industries. In dictatorships and regimes abusive of human rights, governments and other fighting forces alike use products from Israeli defense industries. From Sudan to Brazil and Sri Lanka, a great deal of blood is spilled thanks to advanced Israeli weapons, even today. Israel reached its position as a world leader in defense exports due to every new development being tested immediately in the Occupied Territories, so it can then be marketed as “battle-proven.” None of this is mentioned by the Israeli media, which gives the defense industries a platform to present their wares, and even praises and glorifies their new developments and billion-dollar deals. From our conversations with leading media figures, it has become clear to us that reporters in the areas of military and security have very close relations with high-ranking members of Israeli defense industries. Many times they enjoy free flights to conventions, gifts, and even a peek at classified details. This way, Israeli public discourse remains oblivious to the deep effects of the defense industries on the national economy and on our lives as citizens.
Camaraderie through sports, to Israeli defense industries cruelly harming poor people and helping repress protests. Brazil is the fifth-biggest importer of Israeli arms. The arms trade between the two states is flourishing to such an extent that in 2003, the Brazilian military opened an office in Tel Aviv in order to coordinate millions of dollars of deals with Israeli industries. The relations between the two states were strengthened further surrounding security arrangements for the Rio Olympics of 2016. Israeli company ISDS was the official security provider of the Rio Olympics, in charge of providing local security teams with strategies, guidance, and tools for handling the challenge of securing the events of the Olympic Games. Alongside ISDS were 30 other Israeli companies. The Brazilian government investment in the Games (one of the most extensive in history!) met a great deal of resistance from the people of Brazil, including many demonstrations which were brutally put down, protesting the displacement of many thousands of residents from poor favelas to make room for the Olympic facilities. Activists for Palestinian rights protested the cooperation with Israeli companies and their training Brazilian law enforcement agencies, arguing that practices implemented on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Gaza, and East Jerusalem were being replicated in the favelas of Rio. Displacing poor residents was also part of the preparations for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. While China is known for its many human rights abuses, the Olympic Games were a public relations maneuver for the government to change its image and show that the country was open for international business and culture. Reports indicate some 1.25 million people were displaced for the construction of the Olympic facilities. Many Israeli companies took part in the security arrangements for the Games as well as in training Chinese law enforcement forces for handling civilian protests, both violent and nonviolent, on the part of Uyghur and Tibetan groups demanding independence. Israel Police trained representatives of Beijing Police over a period of six weeks. Israeli arms companies were at the 2012 London Olympics as well, when the Games saw military forces moved to the British capital in numbers not seen since the Second World War. Among other things, their role in London included repressing protests against government spending for the Games. While the Olympic Games symbolize international cooperation and non-violent competition between the states and citizens of the world, many times they provide significant support for developing and importing defense technologies in the host countries and creating security cooperation against many people’s human rights. Israeli companies use the momentum to sell equipment and experience, made all the more prestigious by being “battle-proven” against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli defense industry and the Philippine war on drugs Israel’s most prominent trade connection with the Philippines is the employment of Filipino care workers in Israel. However, the past few years have seen Israel extensive defense exports to the Philippines, with multimillion US dollar deals between the Philippine government and military with Israeli companies Elbit, Rafael, and Israel Aerospace Industries. Recently the Philippine President even made a public promise to only buy arms from Israel. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, nicknamed “the Punisher” by some, has since his June 2016 election conducted what he calls “a war on drugs and organized crime.” He “wages war” through thousands of extrajudicial executions at the hands of police officers, as well as citizens taking the law into their own hands at Duterte’s encouragement, creating an atmosphere of danger and fear on the streets of the country’s big cities. This war includes the imprisonment of thousands, filling local prisons completely. In the first ten weeks after Duterte declared his war, over 2,400 civilians were killed. News media now report over 4,000 innocent people are dead. Duterte expressed support for killing drug dealers and drug users when briefing the police on July 1, the day of his inauguration. “Do your duty and if in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you were doing your duty, I will protect you,” he told his police officers. “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself,” he told a civilian audience that same day. At a press conference on September 30, Duterte compared himself with Hitler, saying, “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there is 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have…” he said, and pointed at himself. He later apologized for the statement, and at a press conference he held at a synagogue said he apologized for using the word “Jews” but still intends on killing 3 million people. At the same event he announced he had ordered his military to only buy arms from Israel. On September 20, ten days before the provocative statement, Duterte spoke before the Philippine military’s 10th Infantry Division and praised Israel’s role in the war on drugs. He added that 120,000 of his soldiers would receive Israeli Glock 30 pistols, “as fast as Israel can produce it.” On the day of his inauguration, Duterte chose to meet with three ambassadors: from China, India, and Israel. In early November 2016, an arms deal of 26,000 pistols between the United States and the Philippines was halted among American concerns for the human rights situation in the country. The Philippine President said of this that he would have to find another source. Will this concern for human rights lead to increased profits for Israeli defense industries? The Israeli Defense Ministry’s Export Controls Agency is charged with preventing situations where Israeli weapons are used for human rights abuses. Will it do so?
When it comes to technologies for controlling border systems, Israel again positions itself as a defense superpower. While nurturing the “small country surrounded by enemies” ethos, the defense industry and security establishment have joined forces in developing security infrastructure at border crossings on land, air, and sea, deepening fearful perceptions regarding Palestinian terrorism. Most of the technology was developed following the construction of the fence and then wall between Israel and the Occupied Territories, beginning in 2002. The wall has become an international symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israeli oppression, as Israel used the wall’s construction to split Palestinian villages in two, annex many Palestinian families’ privately-owned lands, and caused severe environmental damage.
US President-elect Donald Trump was elected among other things based on his campaign promise to build a wall on the US-Mexican border, and to make Mexico pay for it. In the week of Trump’s election, the stock price for Magal Security Systems shot up by 19 per cent on NASDAQ, probably due to its CEO’s declaration he’d be willing to take part in building the separation wall on the US-Mexican border if he won the contract. Magal, which provides perimeter control systems, collaborates with governments and militaries worldwide, including the Kenyan government and the Saudi military. Magal is one of the companies which contributed to the construction of the perimeter control systems for the separation wall. This is an example of technology which, due to its “success” in policing, fighting, and monitoring the Palestinian population, has gained currency in conflict zones around the world.
A major catalyst for defense relations between Israel and the US is US military aid to Israel, comprising a full 52 per cent of all US foreign aid. In the past, the United States allowed a quarter of the military aid provided to Israel to be used for local purchases, a perk unique to Israel, as US military aid to all other countries is intended entirely for purchases from the US, thereby subsidizing American arms corporations. The new aid agreement signed this year cancels this perk. In exchange for the American aid, Israel allows the United States a few perks in return, such as: free warplane access to Israeli airspace; landing and refueling bases in Israel; free access by sea to the ports of Haifa, Ashdod, and Eilat; intelligence sharing; and storage of American missiles, ammunition, and armored vehicles. When Trump assembled his transition team to help him become acclimated in his new role as President, he generously appointed a representative of Israeli arms giant Elbit to help train him on security issues.