Whistle-blowers never fare very well when trying to shine a light on wrongdoing, and the latest pro-Palestinian group of activists to emerge in Britain appears to be no exception. Palestine Action, which has targeted Israel's largest arms company's factories and offices in Britain, has now accused the police of treating their members like terrorists in what has been described as "the state's escalating campaign of harassment and intimidation".
Among many charges laid against activists is one of blackmail after a series of communications were sent to the landlords of the arms company urging them to abide by international law and human rights conventions by evicting Elbit Systems from their properties. Palestine Action says it merely wants to expose arms factories on British soil which it insists facilitate war crimes overseas.
A co-founder of Palestine Action, Richard Barnard, was charged with "conspiracy to blackmail" at Charing Cross Police Station this week, a charge which the group claims is "spurious" and designed to scare activists. It follows an arrest made on 3 February, when the passports of Palestine Action co-founders Barnard and Huda Ammori were seized by police.
Since its emergence last year, Palestine Action has carried out sustained direct action against Elbit Systems, targeting its factories and offices in Britain as part of its opposition to Israel's "murderous" arms trade. In recent months the group has carried out a series of successful protests against Elbit Systems' factories, and the premises of the company's landlords, LaSalle, causing more than £2 million worth of damage and production losses.
"The police are currently using all tools available to them to attempt to demoralise and disrupt Palestine Action," said the group yesterday. "Co-founders of Palestine Action have already been stopped under Schedule 7 and made to endure interrogations under counter-terror legislation; activists' homes have been raided (or attempted to be raided) while they are in police custody, and possessions including passports and devices have been confiscated."
Furthermore, said Palestine Action, "Activists have been denied bail, or have had bail conditions set in such a way as to disrupt protest or even support for protest. The bail conditions on this charge are no different: a 22:00-07:00 curfew, compulsory attendance at a police station upon request, and a ban on entering six jurisdictions where Elbit operate." Meanwhile, it insists, the charge itself is a work of pure fiction. "The charge alleges 'conspiracy to blackmail', based on 'unwarranted demands by letters and emails sent to LaSalle Ltd', which called on them to evict Elbit from their premises."
The correspondence with Elbit Systems' landlords recommended them not to associate with "war criminals" unless they are ready for action to be taken against them as well. Ammori insisted that this is not blackmailing. "This is asking for companies to abide by international law and human rights conventions. What we are seeing is just another extension of harassment by the police. We will not be deterred by police harassment; we will only grow stronger and call on everyone to join us in forcing war criminals out".
Elbit Systems has ten sites in Britain and markets its weapons as "battle-tested". Many believe that this is a euphemism for having been tested on Palestinian men, women and children living in the besieged Gaza Strip. Israel has launched major military offensives and numerous incursions in Gaza since 2008. A documentary film by Yotam Feldman in 2013 — The Lab — attracted controversy for claiming and demonstrating that Israel profits from testing its weapons in the occupied Palestinian territories. The film won a number of awards, including Best Debut Film at the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival.
I find it very difficult to have sympathy for arms manufacturers and dealers who utilise Israel's brutal wars against civilians in Gaza as a lucrative "selling point" to encourage other oppressive regimes to buy their deadly merchandise.
Elbit supplies 85 per cent of the drones used by the Israeli military. Some have been used in extrajudicial killings as well as being deployed to target and destroy Palestinian homes and suppress legitimate protests. Elbit drones and arms were used extensively in "Operation Cast Lead", Israel's 2008/9 offensive in which at least 1,398 Palestinians were killed, including 345 children.
More recently the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency has also bought and used Elbit's drones for surveillance purposes in the bid to monitor and stop migrants seeking refuge in the UK. The brutal Myanmar military uses Elbit drones as part of its arsenal in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State. Elbit Systems has also started to supply armaments to the Indian military's "Project Cheetah", even while the Indian security forces engage in the violent suppression of Kashmiris, an outrage which is ongoing.
It will be interesting to see how the English justice system responds to the forthcoming trials of the Palestine Action activists. On the evidence so far, perhaps it is Elbit Systems which should be in the dock and held accountable for either directly or indirectly being complicit in conflicts which are currently being investigated for war crimes. We now know for example — thanks to the emergence of a secret report — that the airstrike which killed four young Palestinian boys playing football on a beach in Gaza in 2014 were targeted by missiles launched from an armed drone.
Instead of persecuting and prosecuting whistle-blowers who are trying to shine a light on overseas atrocities and war crimes, the British authorities should give the members of Palestine Action good citizen awards for standing up for victims of state terror in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. I would be more than happy to nominate them.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.