An Israeli tank re-enters Israel from Gaza near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel Jan. 11. OSV News photo/Tyrone Siu, Reuters

A call to end the arms trade

  • February 1, 2024

Each night when I was growing up, my mother would do “prayers & lullabies” with us. One prayer was to recite a simple passage from Scripture. I am quoting my “prayer-memory” here and not the actual Scripture:

“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into sickles. Nation shall not lift sword against nation, and they shall train for war no more.”

This is still my prayer, given to me by my mother.

In his 2023 Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi message, Pope Francis focused on the theme of peace. He named places in the world today hurting from violence: Palestine, Israel, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Cameroon, DRC and the Korean peninsula.

He also named one thing in common to all these places of conflict — the weapons trade. When people want to hurt each other, one of the worst things we can do is profit from it by giving or selling them weapons.

“To say ‘no’ to war means saying ‘no’ to weaponry. The human heart is weak and impulsive; if we find instruments of death in our hands, sooner or later we will use them. And how can we even speak of peace, when arms production, sales and trade are on the rise?”

Speaking out against the arms trade has long been a theme for the Holy Father. As far back as June 2014 he referred to arms manufacturers as “merchants of death” and prayed, “May fear of the Lord make them understand that one day all things will come to an end, and they will have to give account to God.”

Going deeper in his Urbi et Orbi message he said, “people… have no idea how many public funds are being spent on arms. Yet that is something they ought to know! It should be talked about and written about, so as to bring to light the interests and the profits that move the puppet-strings of war.”

Canadians should know about how our public funds are being spent on arms. I sit on the management committee of an initiative the Canadian Council of Churches called Project Ploughshares. Ploughshares is a peace research institute and one of their areas of focus is the arms trade. Canada’s involvement in the arms trade and its reporting requirements to the public is highly complex.

For evidence, one can consult their publication, An Analysis of Canada’s Reporting on Military Exports. While there is not enough space in this article for a thorough overview of the topic, it is worth looking at one example making the news these days, the conflict in Gaza. Right now, Canada should not provide weapons to Hamas. We do not. Good. Right now, Canada also should not provide weapons to Israel. We do. This needs to stop.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently made an interim ruling in a case where South Africa alleged that Israel is in violation of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The ICJ stated Israel must take measures to prevent the killing of more civilians and prevent genocide under the scope of article II of the Geneva convention. This has led to more pressure on countries to stop providing arms to Israel, most notably the United States, which provides at least $3.8 billion in military aid annually.

Project Ploughshares recently released a report entitled, “Fanning the Flames: the grave risk of Canada’s arms exports to Israel.” According to the report, Canada’s military exports to Israel have been on the rise. In 2022, exports were over $21 million. However, the report also outlines how Canada is indirectly contributing to Israel via the United States. It focuses on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet produced by a consortium led by Lockheed Martin. According to one study, every jet contains $2.3 million worth of Canadian components. You may have read about 2,000-pound bombs being dropped on Gaza. These are the jets that deliver them.

In its conclusion, the report has three recommendations. The first states that Canada must “revoke existing export, transit and brokering permits for the transfer of goods and technology controlled under Group 2 (‘Munitions List’) of Canada’s Export Control List to Israel.” This is a fancy way to say, “Stop sending arms to Israel.” I agree. So would every mother who prays with her children, “Beat their swords into ploughshares.”

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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