Europe, Stop Arms Trade

Our legal actions and activist mobilizations prevented Israeli arms companies from exhibiting at Eurosatory 2024.

A coalition of human rights, anti-armament, arms-control, and Palestine advocacy groups sustained legal and campaign pressure to stop the Israeli pavilion at the world’s biggest arms fair, Eurosatory. Despite the legal complexities and manoeuvring encountered, and the inaccurate media coverage that continues, the central fact is that this coalition ensured that Israeli companies were stopped from exhibiting at the arms fair. It is easy to see that commercial relationships forged at shows like these by Israeli companies and delegations generate billions of euros worth of contracts, strengthening the economic power of the arms companies and, through them, Israel’s war machine. For a few days we managed to have Eurosatory prohibit any employee or agent of these companies, regardless of their nationality, from being present in the hall. At one point, up to 850 participants linked to Israeli arms and security companies had their badges disabled.

Our coalition of associations and collectives across France, Palestine, and beyond have registered a precious victory against the arms industry of a regime engaged in genocidal behaviour in Palestine. Our actions denied it the opportunity to market its ‘combat proven’ products used to sustain war crimes, crimes against humanity, and plausible genocide.

  • Our actions started with popular mobilisations and months of campaigning, with several intensive phoning sessions (hundreds called Eurosatory per day) and street mobilization, which prepared the way for our legal action.
  • Few weeks before the start of the fair, we sent a letter of summation puting on notice Eurosatory of the dangers of complicity with companies that may be involved in crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and specifically of contravening the International Court of Justice’s Provisional Measures to prevent genocide in Palestine.
  • On 31 May, according to Eurosatory lawyers, our interventions led to a Ministry of the Armed Forces direc3ve to ban Israeli companies from exhibiting their products in the halls. We regret, however, that it did not have the courage to justify its decision based on its legal obligations, preferring to defer to the judgement of the President of the Republic that calls for “an end to Israeli operations in Rafah.” By hosting Israeli weapons manufacturers, Eursatory risks violating laws relating to international crimes far beyond those being committed in Rafah.
  • From 31 May, and for 16 days, news agencies reported a comprehensive ban from the Executive on all Israeli participation as well as exhibition. The ban announced by Eurosatory was only on Israeli arms exhibitors. We considered it necessary to make sure that the ban on Israeli arms companies prevents them both from marketing their weapons and purchasing others.’ Our filing also sought to close loopholes that may be used to circumvent the order.
  • Following our legal action against Coges, the show organiser, on Friday 14 June our coalition obtained a court ruling from Bobigny’s judicial court which compelled Eurosatory to prohibit any person who works for an Israeli arms company from participating in the show in any capacity regardless of their nationality. In addition to an empty arms pavilion, on the first two days of the arms fair Eurosatory required visitors to sign an undertaking that they do not work for or on behalf of Israeli arms companies. Moreover, the Bobigny decision made significant reference to the ICJ’s Provisional Measures and the Genocide Convention of 1948, an important assertion of the force of international humanitarian law in the French courts.
  • Over Sunday 16 June, the Ministry of the Armed Forces publishes a letter of ‘clarification’: “aux termes des échanges qui se sont tenus lors de la réunion du 31 mai 2024 au ministère des Armées… seule la prohibi(on des stands de sociétés israéliennes au salon EUROSATORY 2024 a été décidée.” Along with a largely arbitrary clause on affiliates of Israeli companies, this statement concludes that “Ces deux mesures prises à la demande du gouvernement n’ont pas d’impact sur l’accès au salon des collaborateurs ou des représentants de ces sociétes.” This clarification exhibits a puzzling, even incoherent, logic: exhibiting Israeli armament is not acceptable but to participate otherwise and purchase weapons from others is permitted, even if this risks a continued exterminationist war in Palestine.
  • The judicial counter-attack started on Monday 17 June when it was announced that Israeli companies were going to both the Tribunal adminisration and the Conseil d’état (the supreme court in administrative law) to file a complaint against the French state for its executive decisions.
  • In the morning of Tuesday 18 June, the Chambre de commerce France Israël and Draco Ltd. (a company that “introduces the Israeli methods of community security”), obtained a ruling from the Tribunal de commerce which demanded that Eurosatory stop the bans of Israeli arms companies for what it qualified as a discriminatory act against Israeli moral persons. Although the media immediately announced this as a reversal of previous rulings and the government’s orders, in fact it was not put into effect as a higher court was discussing the Bobigny ruling on the same day.
  • On the same day, Eurosatory appealed to the Cour d’appel de Paris to annul the Bobigny ruling on a number of grounds. As they had done at the Bobigny hearing, our lawyers refuted the disingenuous arguments of our opponents: they demonstrated that Eurosatory is indeed a trade show, which makes it an active intermediary in the arms trade and not the innocent event organiser it claims to be. They cited the ways in which Israeli arms dealers were publicly planning to circumvent the ban ordered by the executive. Above all, they easily demolished the accusations of discrimination, which were based on misrepresentations of the claims made by our coalition: Israeli companies and their representatives were never targeted because of their nationality, but for their activities as arms manufacturers and traders supplying and acting in concert with a state that commits war crimes.
  • By the late evening the court overturned the Bobigny ruling on arguments we believe no tribunal would be proud of. They judged that: (i)there was insufficient evidence that the Ministry of the Armed Forces changed its position 16 days amer its first and only announcement on 31 May as to what will be banned (exhibiting or any participation); (ii)the Bobigny injunctions (référés) were not merited as the urgency and consequences of the violations of international law in France were not apparent enough to require such measures; (iii)and perhaps most importantly, that the judiciary will not disturb the (almost theocratic) prerogative of the Executive to monopolise as an ‘affair of international relations’ the entire dossier of the French arms business, which includes the obscene festival it holds every two years of instruments of death and surveillance (Eurosatory).
  • It is important to note, contrary to some media’s coverage, the Cour d’appel’s ruling was not based on any argument of discrimination, but in fact did not even examine this qualifica(on.
  • Contrary to news coverage and claims of pro-Israel lawyers, the ruling of the Cour d’appel did not reverse the effects of the Executive ban. And in the face of the Cour d’appel’s insistence on the Executive’s prerogative, the ruling of Tribunal de commerce did not have force. The filings in the Tribunal administration and the Conseil d’état were also both withdrawn by the pro-Israel parties.
  • Above all, the Israeli pavilion remained empty for every day of the arms fair.

Ours is an important historic victory over the Israeli arms industry and those who promote it and want to deal with it. Our coalition managed to problematise something that had been totally normalised, namely that ‘combat-proven’ weapons of the Israeli arms industry (accompanied by its practices, philosophies, atitudes and ways of thinking about civilians) are acceptable in France. Impunity in the face of an ongoing genocide was denied at Eurosatory because of the legal problematisation and activist mobilisation effected by the coalition’s actions.

Israeli arms companies and Eurosatory have asserted that they had a win in the Cours d’appel and the Tribunal de commerce. This is not accurate.

  • The Cour d’appel diminished our Bobigny gains, but not the Executive ban which had been interpreted to exclude exhibitors only. The effect of our actions leading up to the Executive decision to ban the Israeli companies from exhibiting was not reversed and the very visible ban on entry for 2 days is unprecedented.
  • The Tribunal de commerce’s decision was unenforceable, both because of its juridical weakness, its contradiction with an interpretation of the Cour d’appel, and the impracticality of testing the messy outcome involving two courts and the Executive in the remaining 2 days of the arms fair.
  • In jurisprudence, we managed to plant a precedent for several days until the logic of an ‘act of state’ came to remove it. Nevertheless, this is a significant breach, and our coalition hopes that associations and collectives representing public interest will build on this to assert the universal principles of law that need to be applied to this industry.

Crimes against the Palestinian people continue to find connections back to France and the French state continues to implicate the Republic in the name of narrow interests: on the same day of the Cour d’appel decision, a media investigation by Disclose documented how the French executive authorised Thales to transfer transponders used on Israeli Hermes 900 drones earlier this year. On 19 June 2024, the Tribunal administration de Paris rejected an application to suspend Eurolinks’ export licence for ammunition links to Israel.

The war of extermination against Palestinians in every domain of life in Gaza is an assault of the highest order on universal norms. Those who arm this effort and those who promote those arms must understand that this is not legal, and they will not be allowed to exterminate a part of the Palestinian people, and therefore a part of humanity, with impunity.

In colaboration with World BEYOND War: