Israel Refuses to Stop Arms Sales to Myanmar, Despite Its Campaign of Rape, Torture and Massacres Against the Rohingya

The state's lawyer tells the High Court that it shouldn't interfere in Israel's foreign relations

A Rohingya refugee walks at the refugee camp of Kutupalong near in Ukhia on September 22, 2017.
A Rohingya refugee walks at the refugee camp of Kutupalong near in Ukhia on September 22, 2017. DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP

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The state has not said that it will stop selling weapons to the military junta in Myanmar, despite recent reports and United Nations data on massacres the country’s military has perpetrated against the Rohingya minority, as well as systematic rape and expulsions.

Responding on Monday to a petition in the High Court of Justice from human-rights activists demanding an end to the arms sales, Shosh Shmueli, representing the state, said the court should not interfere in Israel’s foreign relations. That was a repetition of the preliminary response issued in March by the Defense Ministry, according to which the court had no standing in the “purely diplomatic” matter.

Justices Yoram Danziger, Anat Baron and David Mintz heard the arguments on Monday. Danziger said he was following developments in Myanmar.

A Rohingya Muslim woman, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, wipes her sweat as she waits to receive aid near Balukhali refugee camp, Bangladesh, September 25, 2017.
Dar Yasin/AP

Eitay Mack, the petitioners' lawyer, noted that the European Union and the United States had imposed a trade embargo on the country formerly known as Burma, and said Israel was the only Western state supplying weapons to the military junta.

After the open hearing, there was a lengthy closed-door session at which the state’s lawyers explained Israel’s relations with Myanmar. A ruling on the petition is expected soon.

The violence directed at the Rohingya has intensified recently. Some 421,000 members of the Muslim minority have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the past month, as the UN and others raise allegations of ethnic cleansing.

In November 2015, democratic elections were held that were won by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. But her government doesn’t exert real control over the security forces, since private militias are beholden to the junta that controlled Myanmar prior to the election.

Simon Henshaw, the top U.S. diplomat for refugee and migration issues, has called on Suu Kyi to take action to protect the Rohingya, Speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly meetings, Henshaw said, “We’re oncerned about the reports of attacks, extrajudicial murders, rapes, burning of villages.”

Mack originally petitioned the court in January. Israel is keeping its weapons trade with Myanmar under wraps, but the heads of the junta boast of its ties with Israel on their Facebook pages.

Mack’s petition notes that in September 2015, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the commander of Myanmar’s military, visited Israel and met with Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot. Hlaing noted on his Facebook page that he had visited various defense industries and placed an order for patrol boats.

The petition also pointed out that Brig. Gen. (res.) Michel Ben Baruch, the head of Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Directorate — better known by its Hebrew acronym, SIBAT — visited Myanmar in the summer of 2016 and met with heads of the military regime.

Meanwhile, TAR Ideal Concept, an Israeli defense company, published pictures on its website last year of training it had conducted with Myanmar’s forces.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.