Last month a parliamentary petition was launched in the United Kingdom, calling for sanctions against the Israeli regime, blocking all trade, especially the export of arms. The petition received more than 386,000 signatures, forcing the UK parliament to debate the topic. The response from the British Government was clear: it stated it firmly opposed sanctions and boycotts against Israel, citing their “close relationship”.
In Ireland, the issue of sanctions against Israel was also brought up in an amendment to a motion condemning the “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land. While the amendment did not pass, the topic of sanctions was brought front and centre.
The momentum for both the petition and the amendment came from the sharp public reaction against the intensified violence the Israeli regime has been inflicting on Palestinians over the last few months, including the most recent Israeli regime bombardment of Gaza in which more than 256 Palestinians were killed including 66 children.
Yet, the call for sanctioning Israel has long been a focal point of the Palestinian struggle. Indeed, it is a core pillar of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement – launched in 2005 which calls on people to pressure governments into fulfilling their obligations under international law to end Israeli apartheid by imposing sanctions. These can include banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending free-trade agreements, curbing military trade, and suspending Israel’s membership in international forums such as United Nations agencies, sports federations, international cultural organisations, and others.
International sanctions were mandated in the League of Nations more than a century ago as a way to deter aggression and war. Since then, they have been enshrined under the international legal regime as an appropriate and effective way for third countries to punish those who violate international law.
For example, sanctions including an arms embargo were used against South Africa’s apartheid regime to help end its racist rule over the country. More recently, in 2014, the European Union adopted sanctions against Russia following its illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.