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As South Africa fought for freedom we must do the same for Gaza, says Palestine activist

Palestine Action drop a banner from a bridge
Palestine Action drop a banner from a bridge

Action, rather than words, is desperately being called for by Palestine Action’s Stewart Walker*.

It is time to seek other means by which to convey to the UK, Israel and the international community the intolerable conditions and misery under which the Palestinians in Gaza have been living for decades.

“If you knew there was an abuser who was going to get hold of weapons, you would put a stop to it, you would put yourself in the way and stop it in any way you can and that is exactly what Palestine Action is all about,” said Walker, an active British member of the group.

“It’s about taking action, whether it’s direct action, civil disobedience, other kinds of creative actions. All these need to take place now because it’s urgent. The Palestine situation is getting worse.”

The fight against Israel’s military might, in other words, must be waged at governmental level, as a highly organised, internationally coordinated, deliberately pursued effort of raising awareness and legislation.

Earlier this month, activists from the anti-arms group occupied Israeli defence firm Elbit Systems’ UK London Office, splattering red paint as a symbol of the bloodshed caused by Israel’s military attacks, “field-testing” the weapons Elbit is producing on the Palestinian civilian population. There have been other high-profile actions exposing Elbit such as ad-hacks on buses and bus stops.

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Their strategy, less coherent than others, is to force an end to the war by creating instability, chaos and disruption at home.

“It is about taking it home here in the UK, which is a country right in the centre of all this. And it’s a country that is currently housing all of these ten Elbit sites. JCB, a UK firm, is providing the bulldozers that are wiping out Palestinian homes. They’re using them, they are armouring the Israeli army to destroy entire villages,” explained Walker.

Walker pointed out that it was the years of disruption and civil disobedience that made an important contribution to the international struggle supporting an end to apartheid in South Africa.

Perhaps no social movement of the late 20th century had more success than the anti-apartheid movement.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the British Anti-Apartheid Movement and TransAfrica, the US-based advocacy group behind the Free South Africa Movement, built on earlier international, anti-apartheid protests.

Mobilising hundreds of thousands of people in sustained demonstrations and pressure campaigns, they pushed governments, businesses and consumers to sanction, boycott and divest from South Africa, to great effect.

Walker noted: “It’s the big actions from the 1980s and 70s that we remember, when people were bold enough to go further, and we’re [also] asking people to go further – appropriate to what horrors the Palestinians are going through.”

Israel’s repression of Palestinian citizens in the occupied West Bank has become more brutal over time, he explained.

“I remember when people stormed the pitch. When New Zealand were playing South Africa rugby team and anti-apartheid protesters stormed onto the ground at Rugby Park and stopped the game in the worldwide South African team. They’re iconic because they went straight to the core of the problem.”

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Elbit Systems provides a wide range of weaponry and technology to the Israeli military. Weapons supplied by Elbit were used during Israel’s 2009 and 2014 assaults on Gaza, including aerial drones, armed ground robots, aerial platforms, smart helmets and tank visualisation systems.

The arms company has been targeted for direct action several times by groups around Britain after its boasts at arms fairs that its weapons are battle-tested in Gaza which has a largely civilian population.

However, the war crimes only escalated, as its technology is tested on real populations, real buildings and vehicles and this proves to be a selling point with buyers worldwide.

Further, Elbit components have been used by Israel to kill hundreds of protesters in Gaza, who were protesting for their basic human rights, as part of the Great March of Return since 2018, which the activists from Palestine Action wanted to highlight, including the British government’s direct involvement in licensing arms deals worth around £376 million ($492 million) since 2015.

“The UK has been completely complicit since the Balfour Declaration in 1918 when they first offered to Palestine to be a state for Israel, when in actual fact the majority of people were Palestinian living there, the vast majority right up to 1948. It was not theirs to throw around,” explained Walker.

“And since those colonial times, Palestinians then were ethnically cleansed, they were occupied and gradually squeezed out under horrific occupation.”

“So the complicity started then but the complicity continues now.”

Despite similar calls for the closure of the arms firms including being named and shamed on a UN list of companies operating in illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine falling to deaf ears, Walker believes, as in the past, if they finally snap, decide enough is enough, then even this link with Gaza apartheid will sputter out, too.

The human rights activist said, “A hundred per cent it can be shut down. It’s been done before when the Raytheon factory in Derry was shut down. Protesters marched in and occupied it many times and built a campaign off that action.”

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In 2010, the Raytheon factory in Northern Ireland eventually shut its doors following years of campaigning by locals and nine activists’ high-profile occupation in 2006.

The occupation made headlines across Britain as the activists – known as the Raytheon 9 – broke into the factory and hurled computers out the window, causing an estimated £350,000 ($458,000) worth of damage.

The action was a direct response to Raytheon’s involvement in Israel’s war on Lebanon when bunker bombs made by the US arms firm were being used to massacre civilians.

Walker added, “People will eventually be looking back at the horror of the weapons that are being produced by the arms trade, just like we do at the slave trade, because these factories are murdering and injuring Palestinian people. This is a toxic industry.”

“What we’re asking people to do with urgency and dynamism is to stand up like the Palestinians do when they march towards the bullets in Gaza. We need to stand up here in Britain, the heart of the problem, and march with them.”

*Stewart Walker’s name has been changed to protect his identity

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