Arrests over El Al arms trade action
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Arrests over El Al arms trade action

***image2***On 7th February 2010, 8 peace activists entered the Brussels Holiday Fair and impersonated flight attendants of the Israeli airline company El Al. According to a press release from Vredesactie (Peace Action), “[activists] handed out fake free plane tickets to Israel, which referred to the fact that El Al contributes to the transport of arms to the country’. Israeli security agents observing the fair were alarmed when people started asking questions about the vouchers at the Israeli booth, and responded by ensuring that the activists were arrested.

The action seems to have touched a political nerve, and security personnel of Brussels Expo (where the Holiday Fair was taking place) stated that they received orders from the Israeli Embassy to detain the actors. El Al will probably press charges against the activists for using their logo on the leaflets, and the Israeli Board of Tourism and the Israeli Embassy were keen on legal action against the activists. What at first seemed to be a regular arrest, ended with 20 hours of detention and questioning by a public prosecutor.

Belgian activists have been working on the issue of El Al and arms trade, as the company allegedly transports US arms to Israeli recipients via the airport of Liège (Belgium). Although the European Code of Conduct on Arms Exports is intended to prevent this kind of arms transfer, trade to and from Israel through Belgium is not controlled at all. In 2005 and 2006 alone, 160 million bullet parts, 17 million rounds of ammunition and tens of thousands cartridges, smoke shells and fuses were transferred by El Al from the United States to Occupation forces, through the main Dutch airport of Schiphol.

After El Al transferred its main activities to the airport of Bierset near Liège, it can be assumed that the majority of arms transfers shifted as well. Although the Walloon government does not give any figures about the transfer of military goods, it is known that El Al has 2 to 3 cargo flights from the US to Israel through Bierset every day. If the EU arms export criteria would be applied to these transfer flights, they would most probably not be permitted.

Confronting arms transfers, a vast majority of which are from Europe or the United States, to Occupation forces is key part of the BDS movement. Equally important to challenge the flow of arms and military technology in the opposite direction. Ongoing war and occupation have become a requirement for the Israeli arms industry, providing both opportunities to test and develop new weapons systems while at the same time allowing companies to market “battle tested” products and services to international buyers.

Buyers of Israeli military products, while found in Europe, are more and more located in the global south. India, Brazil and Colombia are all important clients, and as such it is critical that the BDS campaigns against Israeli arms extends to these countries as well. Just as denying a shipment of arms or ammunition affects the ability of Occupation forces to operate, blocking a contract will have serious ramifications for Israeli arms producers and profits they reap from the repression of the Palestinian people.