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London is hosting the world’s biggest arms fair this weekend – here’s why we’ll be protesting against it for Palestine

DSEI is the largest arms fair you've never heard of.

10 Sep

@ShahdAbusalama

In May, as Israel bombarded the majority refugee population of besieged Gaza, killed over 250 Palestinians, and accelerated its attempts to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from occupied Jerusalem, we rose in solidarity . Across the UK, we flooded the streets of towns and cities in our hundreds of thousands to demand an end to Israeli apartheid, and an end to UK complicity in supporting that system of apartheid.

We marched to demand the UK government end its over 100 year complicity in Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian rights. From 1917 to the present day, the UK has provided financial, political and military support for the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Research by PSC, War on Want and Campaign Against Arms Trade found that from 2015 to 2020, the UK government approved over £400m worth of military technology and arms exports to Israel (or nearly £700m if including items licensed as dual-use’). The real value of Britain’s military exports to Israel will be even higher, as there are 43 open licences in this period which allow for unlimited quantity and value of equipment.

But the UK Government’s complicity in supporting the arms trade with Israel doesn’t end with the licensing of arms – it also facilitates arms fairs in towns and cities across the UK, where military delegations from repressive states like Israel hobnob with companies producing deadly weaponry.

This includes the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), the world’s largest arms and weapons fair, taking place next week in Newham, east London.

At the fair, delegations from a range of states that have been found complicit in human rights abuses (including Israel), will look to buy and sell repressive military technology from arms companies. This grotesque event takes place with the full support of the UK government who, through UK Defence and Security Exports (UKDSE), a wing of the Department for International Trade, provide crucial support for the fair to take place, including inviting official state delegations.

DSEI’s exhibitor list is a who’s-who of corporations profiting from oppression. Companies like BAE Systems who provide parts for Apache helicopters and F-16 war planes, used by Israel to target the Palestinian population in Gaza. BAE is joined by the likes of Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons company, whose drones are vital to Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestinian civilians.

On Sunday 12 September, the eve of the arms fair itself, we’re taking to the streets again”

But the fair isn’t happening unopposed. For decades, human rights activists have protested against DSEI with direct action, vigils, rallies, and creative stunts. And this campaigning is having an impact. This year, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has voiced his opposition, telling organisers of the fair to cancel the event, and to not return to London. Khan said, is “home to many people who have fled conflict and suffered as a consequence [of weapons] like those exhibited at DSEI. 

“For it to be used as a marketplace for those who wish to trade in weapons to some countries that contribute to human rights abuses goes completely against our values.”

Organisers ignored the mayor’s advice and demonstrators are now mounting a defence. From 6 September, a plethora of events have been underway in opposition to the DSEI, co-ordinated by a coalition of campaigning organisations under the banner of Stop the Arms Fair.

As part of this series of events, Palestine Solidarity Campaign is organising two vital protests On Sunday 12 September, the eve of the arms fair itself, we’re taking to the streets again. We will be marching through Newham to show our opposition to the fair, and to demand the UK government stop arming Israel. And, on the evening of Thursday 16 September, as the fair takes place, we are bringing Palestinian voices directly to the gates of the event with a rally featuring only Palestinian voices including poets and artists – allies are encouraged to come in support. 

While the protests in May were inspiring, taking to the streets when Israel bombards Gaza isn’t enough. What we need is sustained campaigning to sever UK complicity in Israeli apartheid. This starts by chasing arms fairs out of our cities. Join us on 12 and 16 of September to keep the fight alive and resist the DSEI.

Roua Naboulsi is Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Media and Communications Officer.