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Israeli firepower shot down by peace activists

The Israeli war machine and the $23 billion a year that keeps it going dwarfs all other military spending in the world today, with the exception of America’s. It appears, though, that the Zionist state’s military and those who supply it are being outgunned by something far more forceful than bombs and bullets: nonviolent activism.

Several recent victories have been achieved by peaceful means which only serve to highlight the lack of effectiveness of state firepower when it is used to oppress and control those who desire basic freedoms and liberty.

Leading by example this week is Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, who only agreed to end his 55-day long hunger strike after the Israel authorities gave an undertaking not to arrest him again under so-called “administrative detention”. His courageous one-man protest turned him into an international symbol of Palestinian resistance. Now he will be released from prison on 12 July after a significant climb-down following global pressure on Israel. Peace vigils were held around the world as many feared that Adnan would make the ultimate sacrifice in his determination to take a stand against the oppression of Palestinians who are rounded-up routinely and imprisoned without charge or trial by Israel.

Jawad Boulos, legal counsel for the Ramallah-based Prisoners’ Club, confirmed the Israeli pledge not to detain Adnan again under “administrative detention”. His client had been held for 11 months under this colonial legal mechanism, which is used by Israel to imprison Palestinians without charge or trial and can be renewed indefinitely. It was Adnan’s ninth consecutive detention order.

Israel’s security service, Shin Bet, was warned that Adnan’s death would shatter the relative calm in Gaza. The UN’s top Middle East envoy, Nikolay Mladenov, expressed his concern about the fate of Adnan as his health deteriorated.

While Palestinians celebrate that victory, a bigger battle looms for Israel and the arms dealers in Britain who continue to support it. Next Monday morning, 6 July, hundreds of peace activists from around Britain are expected to descend on a secretive weapons factory in the Midlands as part of a campaign called ‘block the factory‘. The factory is owned by Israeli arms company Elbit Systems; it helps to manufacture drones which are used against the Palestinians in Gaza.

The 6 July protest marks the first anniversary of the start of the Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip last summer; campaigners and peace activists are heading to Staffordshire to demand that Britain stops arming Israel.

Appealing for others to join in the nonviolent action, the organisers declared that they will be transforming the space around the arms factory, converting it from a site of destruction into a fun, creative and child-friendly environment. “Let’s create a space that meets our needs and not the needs of Israeli and multinational corporations that export death for profit.”

Making a direct call to those who’ve never taken part in a protest before, they added: “Whether you have never been on a protest before or are a seasoned activist, whether you are disabled, an older person, a younger person, whether you have five children or none, we need you to come and make this the biggest, most beautiful action yet at an arms factory in the UK!”

The 2014 Israeli war against the people of Gaza, in which more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, including over 500 children, saw Elbit Systems’ drones in use. In response, peace activists occupied the Elbit factory near the Staffordshire village of Shenstone, stopping production over two days at a cost to the company in excess of £100,000. At the height of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, nine activists occupied the roof of the Elbit factory that supplied engines to Israeli drones forcing it to shut down for two days. The activists pleaded not guilty to charges of “preventing lawful activity” on the grounds that the factory was aiding and abetting war crimes and is therefore illegal.

Lawyers speculated that the trial collapsed because Elbit Systems was unwilling to testify in court about its activities and possibly because the British government was unwilling to comply with the court’s order to disclose information it holds about licences for arms exports to Israel. The British government and Elbit Systems now stand accused of running scared from a trial that would have put their collusion in Israeli war crimes into the public domain.

“The information would have shed light on the links between UK arms companies and Israel’s assault on Gaza,” Mike Schwarz, a partner with law firm Bindmans, said at the time that the trial collapsed. “With no court date, there’s no public scrutiny. Indeed, that seems to be what the affected business desperately wants and the government is more than content to let happen.”

It was an embarrassing legal defeat for Israel and its allies within the British government who can now also no longer argue that they have God on their side after the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis, criticised the double standards of those dealing in the arms trade. He went as far as to say that those profiting from weapons deals could no longer call themselves Christians.

Issuing a damning condemnation of the arms industry in front of thousands of young people at a rally in Turin, the Pope said: “If you trust only men you have lost, it makes me think of… people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit of distrust, doesn’t it?” His comments prompted loud applause.

The Pope also criticised those who invest in weapons industries, adding “duplicity is the currency of today… they say one thing and do another.” Pope Francis said the motivation appeared to be “money”, before criticising those who advocate peace while manufacturing or selling arms.

The Church of Scotland, a mainstream Protestant Christian church, famously restated its support for Palestinian human rights in 2013, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return home or be compensated. It has called for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, an end to the siege of Gaza and safe access to the sacred sites for the main religions in the region. In addition it has also called on the British government and the European Union to put pressure on Israel to stop further expansion of its settlements and remove the existing illegal settlements in the Occupied West Bank.

However, the Church of England, of which Queen Elizabeth is the Supreme Governor, is ambiguous about its own position, which is causing division within the movement. While St Paul’s Cathedral in London has adopted a policy of refusing to host events sponsored by arms companies, Church House, the administrative headquarters of the Church of England, hosted a conference this week sponsored by arms companies, and thus profited from their vile trade.

The event, in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, was called the Land Warfare Conference and was sponsored by Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s biggest arms companies. Lockheed’s clients are among some of the most oppressive regimes ever to have turned weapons on their own citizens, including Egypt. Lockheed also supplies the Israeli government with F-16 aircraft and Hellfire missiles, which have been used on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Church House is due to host another event on 14-15 July, which has prompted the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) to issue a strong statement on its website: “UK-made arms have been used in conflicts and to support repression all over the world. The arms companies know they need public support to continue with this deadly trade – and one way they seek to normalise their work is to be associated with prestigious or ‘respectable’ locations.

“We have already persuaded numerous venues not to host arms dealers, including the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum and two Cathedrals – and by doing so we are denying the arms industry the legitimacy it seeks. As well as legitimising those who profit from death and destruction, profiting from the arms trade is also in conflict with the Church’s own position which says, ‘Our policy is not to invest in companies that supply or manufacture armaments’.”

But perhaps the most damaging show of people power comes from the growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) after it emerged last week that Israel lost half of its foreign direct investment in 2014. A report published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) revealed that $6.4 billion was invested last year compared to $11.6 billion in 2013, a decrease of around 46 per cent.

Dr Ronny Manos, one of the report’s authors and a researcher in the department of management and economics at the Open University of Israel, told local media that international boycotts against the country for alleged violations of international law were one of the major causes of the decline. The fallout from Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014 was also cited.

Israel might have one of the most powerful armies in the world but for all that it spends on weapons, fighter jets, tanks and guns it cannot stop international boycotts led by unarmed, ordinary people. Israeli firepower has been, and will continue to be, shot down by peace activists.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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