Berlin lawyers launch legal battle to halt German arms sales to Israel amid Gaza conflict

Citing potential violations of international law, this legal challenge seeks to uphold Germany's constitutional commitment to protecting human life and questions the ethical implications of supplying weaponry in a conflict-ridden region.

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A groundbreaking legal challenge has emerged from the heart of Berlin, where a collective of lawyers has filed a lawsuit against the German government. The move seeks an immediate cessation of arms exports to Israel amidst the escalating violence in Gaza. This legal action is underscored by grave concerns that the armaments supplied by Germany are being used in activities that contravene international law, including accusations of genocide and war crimes against Palestinians.

Germany’s position as a key arms supplier to Israel is significant, with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute indicating that from 2019 to 2023, Germany accounted for 30% of Israel’s imported weaponry. This places Germany second only to the United States, which leads at 69%. The legal pursuit is propelled by advocacy groups including the European Legal Support Center and Law for Palestine, who argue that Germany’s constitutional duty to safeguard human life is at stake.

Representing Palestinian families, attorney Ahmed Abed highlighted at a Berlin press conference that “Germany has a constitutional responsibility to protect human life.” He stressed the imperative for Germany to terminate its arms exports to Israel, given their apparent contravention of international law. The lawsuit is buoyed by the notion that the German government cannot feign ignorance of these violations.

The volume and nature of the arms exports are alarming. In 2023, Germany green-lit arms exports licenses to Israel valued at €326.5 million, a figure that significantly escalated post-October 7, 2023, marking a tenfold increase from the previous year. These authorizations encompassed the supply of 3,000 portable anti-tank weapons, half a million rounds of ammunition, and preparations for the approval of 10,000 rounds of 120mm tank ammunition.

The lawsuit posits that Germany’s arms support to Israel breaches the Federal Republic’s commitments under the War Weapons Control Act. This Act stipulates that arms exports must align with Germany’s international law obligations. Given the International Court of Justice’s January findings, which suggested plausible genocide acts by Israel in Gaza, the plaintiffs argue that weapon deliveries directly contravene these international obligations.

This legal action is not isolated. It follows on the heels of previous lawsuits against senior German officials, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for “aiding and abetting” Israel’s alleged genocide in Gaza. Moreover, Nicaragua’s ICJ lawsuit against Germany for its purported role in abetting Israel’s actions against Palestinians adds an international dimension to the legal scrutiny faced by Germany.

The lawsuit emerges against the backdrop of Germany’s complex relationship with Israel. Germany’s almost unconditional support for Israel, coupled with its forceful suppression of pro-Palestinian demonstrations, has drawn sharp criticism. Many believe that Germany’s historical guilt over the Holocaust influences its current stance, with critics arguing that this guilt is being weaponized against Palestinians and their advocates.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s recent resolution, which Germany and the United States opposed, demanded accountability for Israel’s actions in Gaza, signifying a rift in international perspectives. The human cost of the conflict is staggering, with reports indicating over 33,000 Palestinian casualties since October 7, the majority being women and children.

The lawsuit initiated by Berlin’s Lawyers’ Collective represents a critical juncture in Germany’s arms export policy and its broader foreign relations stance. By challenging the legality of arms exports to Israel, the plaintiffs are not only seeking justice for the affected Palestinian families but also striving for a broader adherence to international law and human rights standards.

In reflecting on the gravity of the situation, Ahmed Abed said: “The sanctity of human life must prevail over political alliances and economic interests. Our pursuit is not just for the cessation of arms exports but for the affirmation of international law and the inviolable rights of every individual.”

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