We Strayed from the Way: A Perspective on Israeli Weapons Sales

“We Strayed from the Way, We have Strayed Dreadfully”
–Captain Witold Pilecki, The Auschwitz Volunteer Beyond Bravery

At the Zionist congress in 1911, Max Nordau announced “They are planning to murder 6,000,000 Jews. We will appeal to the nations of the world but they’ll lift their shoulders truly bored- because it is not in their interest.” Max Nordau implied that the conscience of the world is dead.

Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu, in his introduction to Nordau’s writings, explained the prophetic dimension to Nordau’s thinking. It was his deep developed emotions that enabled Nordau to point out the moral degeneration as the root to the disintegration of a nation.

Just under a year ago, I read one of the most disturbing articles I’d ever come across in an Israeli newspaper. The piece was published in Makor Rishon and was about a group of Rabbis who visited the prison facility in Hulot, which was established for refugees from African countries.  The article raised the moral dilemma concerning the deportation of refugees back to Eritrea.  What was the moral dilemma? If they were sent back to Eritrea, they were likely to be killed there by Israeli weapons.  In disbelief, I read the last sentence: “Is it ethical to sell weapons to murderous forces in Eritrea?

That entire week I researched the subject of Israel’s security exports. I realized that I’ve become  a partner in a dreadful crime that i want no part of. I was even more outraged when I found out that this wasn’t the first time it happened.

According to Professor Yair Oron, a leading genocide researcher, 20 years ago during the Rwandan genocide (where over a million innocent men, women and children were killed), planes filled with ammunition were flown out of Ben-Gurion Airport right into the hands of Rwandan murders- with the full approval of the highest level of Israeli leadership. Until today, no official documentation on this matter is accessible to the public. Attorney Etai Mack and Professor Yair Oron appealed to the Supreme Court requesting that the public have access to this information, after their request was refused by local courts. As long as the policy of lack of transparency continues, then there is nothing to stop arms sales to questionable regimes.

A similar thing happened during the Third Balkan war. Israel sold weapons to Serbia who used them in acts of mass murder. Today a merciless civil war is taking place in South Sudan between two Christian tribes. UN reports claimed: “Israeli arms are fueling the conflict in South Sudan.”

In 2006, as a result of the dispute with the USA over arms sales to China, Colonel Uzi Eilam wrote a report at the request of Israel’s defence ministry. The report highlighted the need to create a framework to supervise and monitor sales of arms. In his historical overview, Colonel Eilam wrote: “Israel directed its export efforts to a range of countries, including states that were ‘ostracized’ by the international community: (Chile &South Africa) South American States suspected of drug dealing; African States connected to Genocide.” He goes on to present the financial dilemma: our military industry produces massive amounts of arms and ammunition. Twenty percent goes to the IDF and eighty percent is exported. The problem is that there aren’t enough democratic countries to purchase the remaining eighty percent.

As a result of this report, a monitoring system was put into place that ensures that the Israeli government can no longer directly sell weapons to murderous regimes. However, the real problem has not been solved.

Privately owned Israeli arms companies, operating with State-provided licensees, buy the extra ammunition from the Israeli Arms Industry.  These weapons are then provided to aid regimes in Africa with no confirmation whatsoever that they will be used in an ethical manner. The military assistance provides these countries with ammunition and military training.  Israeli arms companies are now recruiting successful young men finishing up their IDF service.  These men, many alumni of special units, are being offered high salaries in an effort to lure them to travel to Africa and train troops. There is a high possibility that those African troops will commit horrific crimes against innocent people using Israeli weapons.

Ever since I made these discoveries 10 months ago I have been protesting these crimes outside the Prime Minister’s office. I initiated a month-long hunger strike in an effort to stop the current weapons sales to the South Sudanese government which was committing war crimes against local tribes using Israeli ammunition. During my protest, I received a call from a man who identified himself as Nechemiah from the Prime Minister’s Office. He tried to convince me not to continue my hunger strike, since Israel does not sell weapons to South Sudan. He claimed that ammunition is transported to countries in all sorts of ways and it is impossible to track where it goes. Therefore, he claimed, we are not responsible. I replied – “If we are the first sellers and South Sudan are the last buyers, then we are responsible.” The conversation ended there.

This past May, I had a meeting in the Knesset with Deputy Defense Minister, Rabbi Ben-Dahane.  His response to me was similar to Nechemiah’s.  He explained that the ammunition is transported through another country (most likely referring to Uganda) and Israel is therefore not responsible. He went on to mentions that our military creates seven billion dollars worth of ammunition exports.  This is a tremendous money maker for Israel.

But atrocities are still taking place and Israeli weapons are being used.

About eight months ago, the American and European press published reports from many eye witnesses detailing how South Sudan’s military forces stormed villages, raping and then burning the women alive. This caused a serious refugee crisis in South Sudan and according to UN reports; thousands are likely to die from hunger this winter.

Just two weeks after these reports came out; the Israeli Arms Institute organized an exhibition of new weapons in tel Aviv.  A high level delegation arrived from the South Sudanese government- the same government committing the murderous crimes! A few days following the exhibition, the South Sudanese ambassador in Tel Aviv invited Israeli Ministers and high ranking officials from the Ministry of Foreign affairs to a South Sudan Independence day celebration in the ambassador’s residence. An Israeli Minister gave a speech and made a toast (footnote 3).

So I ask with tears in my eyes, “What has happened to us? How can we make money off crimes? How can we celebrate with the representatives of that murderous government?”

In the last seven months, Arutz 1 and Arutz 2 aired stories explaining in the clearest way possible that Israeli companies with state issued licenses are indeed providing military aid to government forces in South Sudan. Although this story was exposed to the public on television, there was no subsequent reaction from the press, no special session in the Israeli Parliament, and no outcry from the public: not the right, not the left and not the religious leaders.  The issue is simply not on the public radar.

A month and a half ago, a Member of Knesset Tamar Zandberg presented a proposed law pertaining to the oversight on security exports.  The proposal is a translation of the USA’s law on this issue: as soon as there are witness reports from reliable sources that crimes against humanity and premeditated murder of innocent people have been committed, an embargo must be immediately enforced without waiting for Security Council approval.  In other words, it allows for an embargo to be put into effect without obtaining the approval of Russia and China who are far more lax in ensuring the sanctity of life when it contradicts their interests.  In America and Europe this is exactly what happened: an arms embargo on South Sudan was initiated once the war crimes were confirmed.

Zandberg’s proposal was not accepted by the Knesset. Shamefully, all the religious parties voted against it. Although Uri Ariel, voted for the law in the ministerial committee for legal affairs (to the dismay of minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked) during the vote in the Knesset he was absent.

I return to my original question, “What has happened to us?” Here is a real story which will shed light on our moral predicament.

There was a very courageous officer in the Secret Polish Army named Withold Pilecki.  In September 1940, upon hearing that his friends had been arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, he decided to embark on an unthinkable mission. He volunteered to be arrested by the Nazi’s in order to be sent to Auschwitz. His idea was twofold: he wanted to raise the morale of his friends in Auschwitz by inspiring them to work together to create an underground movement enabling to provide life-saving help to one another. Simultaneously, he sent out reports to the West and begged them to intervene militarily.

Pilecki managed to help people to escape from Auschwitz and smuggled out detailed reports describing the installation of the death camps and the gas chambers.  When the Jews arrived in Auschwitz in 1942, he immediately warned the world and pleaded for them to attack Auschwitz and he would organize a revolt from inside. There was no answer to his pleading, as it fell on deaf ears.  He thought to himself, “My friends, we have strayed very far away.  We have strayed dreadfully. What is even worse, there are no words to describe this.”

Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish citizen, also heard a cry.  Like Pilecki, he also volunteered to save humanity.  He went to Budapest in 1944 and saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews.  Wallenberg used to say “my imagination is my secret weapon”.  He imagined how we feel when we are humiliated, tortured and being murdered and then he blessed himself with the power to save.  He helped me understand the verse: “and you should love your neighbor as yourself, I am G-d.” As if to say, when you really love, you receive power from Above.

My brothers, we have strayed dreadfully far. Let us imagine a child crying when he sees that they are burning his mother alive. Let us allow ourselves to cry, let us allow the tears to purify and empower us, like the tears of Rachel our Matriarch, Withold Pilecki and Raoul Wallenberg, and we will raise a cry and we will blow a shofar. We are going to free ourselves from a frightful crime. My brothers and sisters, the time has come to purify ourselves.

If you have ideas about how to move forward, please contact


About the Author
Eli Yossef is an educator, lecturer and activist. He currently works with the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, Machon Meir and Machon as well as in Real Estate. Published works include “The Act” (1992) for which he won the Yair Prize.