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Direct action against Israel’s war machine in Britain worries the occupation state

February 26, 2021 at 2:25 pm

Activists occupy the Israeli-owned arms ‘Elbit System’ factory in Oldham, UK on 22 February 2021 [Palestine Action media team]

One of the most active pro-Palestine groups in Britain has now teamed up with a global environmental movement which uses nonviolent civil disobedience in order to exert pressure on governments and authorities. Palestine Action made an impact after its launch last year by targeting the arms factories across Britain as well as the London headquarters of Israeli-owned Elbit around fifty times in six months.

Now the activists have teamed up with the formidable Extinction Rebellion and performed a series of early morning protest raids on Elbit factories in the UK. The group has vowed to continue targeting Elbit until it shuts down and quits Britain for good.

Elbit Systems produces surveillance technology for Israel’s Apartheid Wall and the engines for 85 per cent of its military drones, among other weapons components. Its drones, which include the Hermes 450 and the later 900 model, were employed extensively during the 51-day attack on Gaza in 2014, which killed over 2,200 Palestinians, including 551 children.

After a rooftop occupation at Elbit’s UAV Engines in Staffordshire half a dozen protestors were put before Newcastle under Lyme magistrates on Thursday morning having been held in custody for 40 hours. Moreover, the protestors had their homes raided by police investigating their activism. All were released on bail by the afternoon after being charged with criminal damage amounting to an estimated £50,000.

Palestine Action occupied the Staffordshire plant last September, costing the firm around £145,000 in damages, with other similar “shutdowns” at UAV Engines in November and then in January this year. The group stepped up its campaign on 1 February when it joined forces with Extinction Rebellion North to occupy Elbit-Ferranti in Oldham for 16 hours, in what was described as the “first of many” collaborations.

“Our alliance with Extinction Rebellion groups is a symbol of an emerging joint resistance against a company that is destroying both people and the planet,” a spokesperson for Palestine Action told me last night. “When apartheid exists in the 21st century, and Israeli arms companies are openly battle testing their weapons on unarmed civilians, building those very same weapons in our local towns and cities, we have a moral obligation to act; all of us.”

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The spokesperson pointed out that the same industries that are “slaughtering civilians” are also destroying the environment. “We are, therefore, one united cause and we will continue to fight alongside each other to bring about both social and climate justice for the benefit of every living being.”

During the 1 February collaboration, the activists, armed with banners and red paint, occupied the rooftop of the Israeli-owned Elbit Ferranti factory in Oldham, Greater Manchester, to protest against “an economy based on devastation, occupation and war”. A press release from the two groups stated that the action forced the site to halt its production of deadly weapons.

“Several activists have blocked the entrance of the Elbit Ferranti factory by chaining the gates shut after storming the site in the early hours of Monday morning. Two have climbed onto a ledge on the front of the factory, pouring blood-red paint down the front and spray-painting the words ‘Shut Elbit Down’.”

Both groups condemn the British government’s deepening relationship with Elbit. A spokesperson for Elbit Systems UK declined to comment on the latest protest, which followed hot on the heels of a Ministry of Defence contract worth £102 million for Elbit’s new “sensor to shoot” systems, signed earlier this month. The British Army says that the high-end surveillance system will allow frontline soldiers to detect and engage enemy targets in seconds.

READ: British complicity in Israeli war crimes is being highlighted by pro-Palestine activism

Announcing the latest deal, defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin said, “This contract with Elbit Systems UK not only delivers the very latest in battlefield technology to our frontline soldiers, but also invests in the British defence industry, sustaining more than 500 jobs across the UK.”

Since 2018, the British government has bought £45m worth of military equipment from the arms firm, despite its role in aiding Israel’s war crimes and the occupation of the Palestinian people. Extinction Rebellion and Palestine Action say they want the government to end its relationship with Elbit and its complicity in Israeli apartheid.

“We stand resolutely against the apartheid and genocide of the Palestinian people,” explained Extinction Rebellion. “We will not accept an economy based on devastation, occupation and war. Our communities deserve and want a sustainable, fair and healthy future, for all people.”

A public statement by the group said that its collaboration with Palestine Action came about because it recognises the overlapping injustice and exploitation that reinforce the struggles so many people face. “Whether it is down to poverty wages, obscene inequality, the destruction of our living world, or racist oppression, there is a great need to join our voices together, to lift and strengthen our movements for root and branch change. We hope our collaboration with Palestine Action will help build a movement of movements, shut Elbit Systems down and be another step towards a better world.”

Palestine Action has accused the British government of profiting from the colonisation of Palestine for over 100 years. “Now it is allowing Elbit to manufacture weapons here in Britain which have been ‘battle tested’ on Palestinian civilians.”

After yesterday’s court hearing an observer from Palestine Action was defiant. “We’re back, and this is once again a clear and unwavering message to the immoral profiteers of war and the perpetrators of crimes against humanity that we’re not going away until Elbit’s lethal chain of weapons factories are hounded out of the UK. Petitioning and protests don’t work, so it’s our moral obligation to take matters into our own hands and use direct action to shut these death factories down for good.”

The joint action is bound to alarm pro-Israel lobbies and supporters who are already fighting a losing battle against the global, non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It is a clear sign that support for Palestine is growing and there will be even more interest in the upcoming trial of the six protestors arrested in Staffordshire.

This is not good news for Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Minister of Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash-Hacohen, who specifically raised their concerns during a recent meeting with Britain’s Foreign Minister Dominic Raab. “Only last weekend,” said Farkash-Hacohen, “the offices of an Israeli security company were vandalised for the fourth time in the last month. We want Israeli companies to continue doing business in London. It’s good for both countries.”

Israel usually responds with deadly weapons against peaceful Palestinian protestors and healthcare heroes like Razan Al-Najjar, the 21-year-old volunteer medic who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper almost three years ago. However, its guns, missiles and tanks are powerless to crack down on its detractors in the West. Direct action against Israel’s war machine in Britain clearly worries the occupation state. That has to be good for the ongoing struggle for peace and justice in occupied Palestine.

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