Did Israel arm Rwanda during the 1994 genocide?
By Michal Zak
Friday 16 January 2015
According to UN officials, 800,000 men, women and children were
massacred in Rwanda in the space of 100 days in 1994, the fastest
genocide in human history. Several countries, including Albania and
Uganda, provided arms to the Forces Armées Rwandaises (the former
Rwandese Armed Forces) who perpetrated crimes against humanity during
the genocide, despite a UN embargo on the sale of weapons to the
central African nation.
In 2004, Yair Auron, an Israeli historian at Israel's Open University,
called for a probe into Israel's arms sales to Rwanda during April of
1994. Auron, who has spent over 20 years researching Israeli attitudes
towards the genocide of other peoples, claimed he had photographs and
documents showing that Israeli arms dealers provided Rwandan forces
with bullets, rifles and grenades captured from Egypt during the 1973
Arab-Israeli war. Israel has denied the claims.
In 2014 a request by Auron and human rights attorney Eitay Mack that
Israel's Ministry of Defence make public files on arms exports to
Rwanda in 1994 was denied on the grounds that revealing the
information might `harm Israel's state security and foreign
Last week Auron told a district Tel Aviv court: `To send arms to a
country where genocide is taking place is like sending arms to Nazi
Germany during World War II. We provided arms to Serbia during the
embargo, and we provided arms to the Rwandan government, which was
MEE's Michal Zak spoke to Professor Auron about his ongoing
investigation and the Israeli authorities response.
When did you first think that Isreal had sold arms to Rwanda during
the 1994 genocide?
I first heard it from an Israeli photographer. He was in Rwanda eight
times and he saw the weapons. When I asked him if top leaders were
involved in the arms deal, he said yes. When I said, that means
[Yitzhak] Rabin and [Shimon] Peres, he told me: `You said it, I
didn't. And if you publish it anywhere, I will say that I don't know
you.' I started to look for more evidence. In our petition we rely,
among other sources, on an Amnesty International report that was
published in 1995.
The report gives details about the weapons that were loaded at Ben
Gurion airport. The list included mostly small arms that Israel
captured in the Arab-Israeli war in 1973, as well as Soviet and
Chinese weapons that were loaded in Tirana, Albania. The arms were
loaded in Israel and in Albania under the supervision of Israeli
officers. Later on when attorney Mack and I prepared the petition we
came across additional information that verified our suspicions.
To your knowledge, did the Israeli government know it was selling
weapons that could be used in genocide?
There was tension in Rwanda as early as January of 1994. Several of
the world's most powerful states imposed international arms control
regulations and on May 17 1994 there was a UN embargo. Israel breached
the embargo, as did Russia, Belgium, South Africa, France, Spain and
others. Many of the planes that transported the shipments were
British. The last license to export arms was issued by the Israeli
Ministry of Defense in October 1993, about half a year before the
But some of the shipments were sent between May and July (during the
massacres). According to the documents of the Rwandan Ministry of
Defence, seven shipments of light ammunition arrived from Israel via
Albania between April and July of 1994 for use of the militias that
committed the massacres.
I must add that the Israelis were also the first to send a military
hospital to Rwanda in July of 1994. The medical staff did a remarkable
job. But while the government was responsible for this great act of
humanitarian aid, it was also responsible for supplying arms to the
government Hutu forces.
What did you think would happen if you publicised Israel's involvement
in the genocide?
I was interviewed on the news on Israeli TV in 2004 on the tenth
anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The anchorman introduced the item
using Holocaust terminology, which in Israel is rarely used to
describe anything but the Holocaust. He said that when the genocide in
Rwanda took place the `world was silent.' I added that Israel was part
of the world that was silent, and that there are even claims that we
supplied some of the weapons. I concluded the interview saying that if
the claims are true, these are genocide crimes.
I was sure that by the time I got home from the studio I would be
flooded with phone calls and emails from political figures and others
who would be concerned, furious or sceptical about this revelation.
But there was silence. No one reacted. I confront this kind of denial
again and again from the most responsible, moral people. This includes
academics, politicians and friends who say to me: `It is not
possible¦there could not have been arms sales.' Or I am told that I
have `gone too far by accusing Rabin and Peres.'
What is your motivation - what do you hope to achieve?
We want to expose the sources that were connected to the sales because
selling arms during an embargo is a crime against humanity. If the
International Criminal Court was doing its job, it would have been
possible to persecute Israel, France and others. We chose to petition
the Israeli courts using the Freedom of Information law, giving every
Israeli citizen and resident the right to obtain information from a
public authority. Our motivation is moral. These actions are against
international law and it is important to expose what happened. We are
not so naive as to believe that we can stop arms sales completely.
Attorney Mack is determined to increase transparency and public
supervision on arms sales which, needless to say, would be bad for
business, harming Israel's economic interests and presumably
explaining the state's resistance. He adds that if we want to prevent
these evils in the future we need to expose and confront dark chapters
of our past. His aim is to make sure that the law concerning
supervision on arms sales is implemented. The law forbids arms sales
to countries with an arms embargo. In addition he is advocating a new
law that will forbid Israel to sell arms to countries with massive
human rights violations.
Can you elaborate on Israel's involvement in Serbia?
Israel sold weapons to Serbia during the civil war (1991-1995), after
the UN embargo was declared in 1991. In 1992, while Milosevic was
being described by many as the new Hitler of Europe, Israel opened an
embassy in Serbia. Acts committed by the Serbs during the war were
later defined as genocide and ethnic cleansing. When the prime
minister of Serbia visited Israel in 2014, both the Serbian and the
Israeli leaders failed to mention this dark chapter in their
relations, as if it had never happened. We are petitioning the state
in this case as well. We want the dates, details, documents and names
of people who were involved. We know that very high officials were
Do you think that speaking up now can decrease future killing?
Since 2012 Israel sold billions of dollars worth of arms to
Azerbaijan, even though there is an EU and a de facto US embargo on
Azerbaijan. There are close relations between the two countries.
Azerbaijan supplies 40 percent of Israel's oil and is eager to buy its
military technologies. Israel justifies arming Azerbaijan because it
borders Iran and there is military `logic' to having a strong ally on
the border with Iran. But at the same time Azeri officials are saying
openly that these arms are required for potential use against Armenia
in their effort to regain the `occupied lands' taken by Armenia in the
war over Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2014 the Azeri president tweeted (!)
that the Armenians are barbaric, that Azeris need to regain all the
territories, and that they are ready for battle since they acquired
the necessary weapons. So the real danger is that these weapons may
encourage the Azeri government to start a conflict with Armenia. As a
result of the incitement, Auron and Mack call upon the Israeli
Ministry of Defence to freeze export licenses to Azerbaijan.
It is not easy to take your own country to court. Can you elaborate on
your reason for trying?
For over 25 years I have been researching the attitude of Israel
toward genocide of other peoples. I see it as crucial to teach other
genocides and I hope that Israel will acknowledge the Armenian
genocide despite diplomatic pressure from Turkey. It is important to
me to challenge the academic and popular discourse that differentiates
the Holocaust from other genocides. I am appalled by cynical use of
the Holocaust. For example, going back to Rwanda, in 1994 when the
genocide began the government of Israel issued a statement that the
Jewish people, who were victims themselves, cannot remain indifferent
to such atrocities. This statement was issued after the shipment of
weapons was already on its way! I see this struggle as a mission. My
motivation is the Holocaust, but my commitment is to the truth. We
must never manipulate our memory of the Holocaust victims. It is hard
for me to say this, but I believe that what I have described here is a
desecration of this memory.
Did Israel arm Rwanda during the 1994 genocide?
Posted 18 January 2015 - 09:25 AM
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