2023 was the deadliest year recorded in the occupied West Bank since the United Nations (UN) began reporting in 2005. Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank killed at least 477 Palestinians over the course of the year, more than half of them after October 7. At the same time, the value of Canada’s arms trade with Israel has surged over the past several years. 

I find Canada’s supply of military weapons to Israel concerning, given the possibility that the weapons will be used to kill and maim Palestinians in the occupied territories. To prevent its exports from being involved in the perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity, I believe Canada must halt its arms trade with Israel. 

Amid all these documented civilian casualties, I feel that Canada’s military trade with Israel should be scrutinized more closely. It’s worth noting that Canada is legally responsible for ensuring that its arms exports are not “used in the commission of serious violations of international law or serious violence against women and children,” as outlined in the international Arms Trade Treaty. 

For perspective, about 70 per cent of those killed in Gaza between October 7 and December 18 were women and children. What’s more, an October Amnesty International report has documented unlawful action by the state of Israel since October 7, including but not limited to counts of indiscriminate fire, which have caused mass civilian casualties. The prohibition against assault on civilians is a core tenet of international humanitarian law, yet the report found multiple cases of attacks by the Israeli military when there were no military objects present at the time. 

This is to say nothing of how the Israeli government has blocked food, water, and fuel into the West Bank, in what Human Rights Watch has reported is a deliberate use of starvation as warfare. Unsurprisingly, depriving civilians of essential goods also constitutes a war crime.

This blatant disregard for Gaza’s citizens comes at a time in which Canada’s weapons trade with Israel is seeing record highs. In fact, the value of Canada’s military exports to Israel has been growing steadily since the mid-2000s. In 2022, Canada transferred over $21 million in military goods to Israel, hitting the third-highest level of Canadian military exports to Israel to date — even when adjusting for inflation. 

Canada’s annual report from that same year indicates that Israel was second only to the US in terms of the amount of export permits it granted for military technology and goods. While a significant portion of exports went toward Israel’s space program, approximately eight million dollars worth of this went towards either military aircraft or explosives. 

In light of this, we ought to consider how Canada’s role as an arms-exporting nation may conflict with its international obligations and human rights principles. This concern isn’t new: the possibility for Canada to indirectly contribute to human rights abuses is precisely why its arms trade has been historically subject to restrictions, such as two-way embargoes, where the country is required to halt all military item transfers to another country. Embargoes aim to prevent the exchange of military equipment between the countries involved and can be invoked on humanitarian grounds. 

It would be remiss not to pause arms exports to Israel, as Canada has done so before. Canada’s previous arms embargo with Israel was implemented in the late 1980s. Interestingly, this sanction was imposed as a response to violence against Palestinian citizens during the first intifada. 

Of course, the conditions that brought about the ban aren’t unlike those facing Palestinians today. If anything, I believe an embargo is needed now more than ever. Whereas Israeli forces killed roughly 1,100 Palestinians during the first five-year intifada, nearly 25,000 were killed in Gaza since October 7 alone. At this point, it’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the gravity of Israeli violations. 

In the current global context, Canada’s Israeli arms trade is inconsistent with both its domestic legislation and its commitment to global diplomacy. A report commissioned by the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East — a Canadian pro-Palestine advocacy organization — suggests that Canada not only suspend its military trade with Israel but also launch a parliamentary investigation to determine whether Canadian exports have been used in attacks against civilians in Gaza. Transparency is imperative when lives are at stake.

Beyond potentially supporting a breach of international law, the continued transfer of military goods to Israel conveys an indifference toward the rule of international law — and toward the sheer levels of devastation in occupied PalestineEmma Dobrovnik is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying political science and criminology. She is a Director of Mentorship for the Association of Political Science Students and an International Affairs columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.