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Korean Movements Demand: South Korea, Stop Arming Israel!

Activists from trade unions, left political parties, and civil society groups called on the South Korean government to stop arming Israel.

On January 19, 150 people protested in front of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) office in the city of Daejeon, demanding the South Korean government stop arming Israel. While Palestine may seem like a distant conflict to South Koreans, the South Korean military-industrial complex is a key pillar in the Israeli war machine. According to Peace Momo, Hanwha, South Korea’s leading defense company, signed a major technology cooperation and export deal with Israeli weapons company, Elbit Systems, at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) in 2021.

In fact, from 2014 to 2022, South Korea exported $43.9 million (57 billion won) worth of weapons to Israel. According to the United Nations, 25,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, yet DAPA continues to arm the IDF and refuses to disclose if South Korean weapons have been used in Gaza.

In response, the rally’s organizers issued three demands to the South Korean government: stop the arms trade and military cooperation with Israel; transparently disclose details of arms trade with Israel; make every diplomatic effort for an immediate ceasefire and to stop the massacre.

The demonstration was the latest action between Urgent Action by South Korean Society in Solidarity with Palestine and ADEX (Aerospace & Defense Exhibition) Resistance. While there have not been mass protests in South Korea following October 7, Palestinian solidarity activists, especially Palestine Peace and Solidarity, have raised public support through bi-weekly rallies, one-man pickets in front of the Israeli embassy, and bringing progressive organizations into a coalition. Urgent Action by S. Korean Civil Society in Solidarity with Palestine now has the support of 157 organizations, including all four progressive political parties and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).

The full breadth of solidarity that South Korea’s social movements have for the Palestinian struggle was on display in Daejeon. Representatives from the Justice Party, Progressive Party, Labor Party, and the Green Party raised their flags alongside labor unions and civil society groups. Many rally participants, including the International Strategy Center, came down to Daejeon through a peace bus from Seoul, while others were part of local social movements in the city and the broader Chungcheong province. Braving the bitter cold and heavy wind, protesters heard from the band Freebird and the vegan group “Carbon-Saving Vegetarian Life” who lifted spirits through their movement songs. Protestors sang along to the Palestinian solidarity rallies’ unofficial anthem, “We Will Not Go Down,” released in 2009 during another Israeli war on Gaza.

Kim Jae-seop, the chairman of the Steering Committee of the Daejeon Civil Society Group Coalition, revealed how far the movement has come in the past few months. The DAPA office moved down to Daejeon after civil society groups demanded the government redistribute jobs and economic opportunities to neglected regions outside of Seoul. Kim reminded the public that since Korea has also experienced the horrors of war, “we must not make the mistake of losing our humanity while pursuing only profit.”

Ju from World Without War went one step further and called on Koreans to heed the call by Palestinian trade unions to block all factories manufacturing weapons for Israel, as 100 protestors had done in the Elbit arms factory in England. The president of the Metal Workers Union’s Hyundai branch in Asan also reiterated that worker’s labor should be used to aid the community, not genocide.

After speeches, protesters turned towards the DAPA office, chanted slogans, and screamed in righteous fury. The protest then ended with a colorful and satirical skit. Two actors sporting slick suits represented Israel and DAPA. Together they held a thick strip of bloody dollars, which activists cut down with oversized scissors. The performance closed with the rally organizers symbolically handing DAPA officials several boxes filled with 10,000 signatures demanding an end to South Korea’s arms trade with Israel.

South Korea’s progressive forces are steadily building mass support for Palestinian solidarity.

Greg Chung is part of the International Strategy Center (ISC) based in South Korea.

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