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British pro-Palestine activists prove that direct action and BDS are effective

Palestine Action activists target the headquarters of LaSalle Investment Management, drenching the site in blood-red paint, preventing entry and covering the site in ‘war crime scene’ tape, on 9 June 2021 [Pal_action/Twitter]
Palestine Action activists target the headquarters of LaSalle Investment Management, drenching the site in blood-red paint, preventing entry and covering the site in ‘war crime scene’ tape, on 9 June 2021 [Pal_action/Twitter]

Pro-Palestine supporters were celebrating victory last night after Scotland lived up to its reputation of being "enemy territory" for Zionists, with the country's last local authority pension fund announcing that it has divested from the controversial Israeli Bank Hapoalim. Years of campaigning and pressure, led by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other concerned Scots, has paid off.

This proves once again the power of the peaceful Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which is a Palestinian-led initiative working for freedom, justice and equality. BDS is reviled by the pro-Israel lobbies for doing nothing more than insisting that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

"Scotland is now a Bank Hapoalim-free zone," declared SPSC co-founder Mick Napier after announcing that the Lothian Pension Fund, which represents the quartet of East, Mid and West Lothian and Edinburgh City councils, has divested from the Israeli bank. Hapoalim is listed in the UN's database of business enterprises involved in activities that impact on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

READ: Britain should end, not extend, its military cooperation with Israel

A UN investigation found that Bank Hapoalim's activities relate to the provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, including transport networks. The banking and financial operations also help to develop, expand or maintain the illegal Israeli settlements and their activities, including loans for housing and the development of businesses.

The Lothian Pension Fund is the second largest local authority pension fund in Scotland, with 84,000 members and £8 billion of assets. It is the third such fund — and the last — to divest from Bank Hapoalim. Falkirk Pension Fund was the first to divest in 2018 in response to SPSC campaigns supported by pressure from trade unions. The following year, Tayside Pension Fund divested, leaving the Lothian Pension Fund as the only Scottish council pension fund to retain holdings in the bank.

Now news has come through that it too has divested, which means that all of Scotland's 11 local authority pension funds are free of investments in the Israeli company which helps prop up Tel Aviv's network of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

According to Napier, the Lothian fund had defied years of pressure to divest until it finally succumbed in March. While it is unlikely that SPSC's campaigns will be credited, members and trade unions have regularly lobbied pension fund committee meetings and elected councillors have received thousands of emails from local voters.

Napier explained that a delegation from the Time to Divest campaign met with Lothian Pension Fund's Chief Executive Officer and his team back in December 2019. "Despite the meeting we failed to secure agreement that the fund should adhere to their commitment to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment and ensure that it does not invest in companies found to be complicit in human rights abuses."

Undeterred, SPSC, Unison Scotland and other members of the Time To Divest campaign sent literally thousands of emails to local councillors to secure this landmark victory. "This will be a hard rock for Zionists to chew upon," added Napier, although he warned that Scotland's BDS campaigners will not be complacent. "Much remains to be done to pressure further divestment by Scottish local authority pension funds from arms companies and other commercial operations which are complicit in what Human Rights Watch refers to as Israel's 'crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution'."

Palestine Action targets the landlords of Israel's biggest arms chain, drenching the LaSalle London headquarters in blood-red paint on 9 June 2021 [Pal_action/Twitter]

Palestine Action targets the landlords of Israel's biggest arms chain, drenching the LaSalle London headquarters in blood-red paint on 9 June 2021 [Pal_action/Twitter]

He pointed out that Lothian Pension Fund, for example, continues to invest in Booking Holdings (also on the UN database), Caterpillar, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, all of which means that it continues to invest in Israeli apartheid. "Our campaign continues. We are showing across Scotland that sustained pressure can deliver results." The veteran activist urged more people to get involved as a volunteer by sending an email to [email protected]

Meanwhile, south of the Border, more pro-Palestine campaigners have chosen a less subtle form of direct action as their preferred method of tackling arms companies whose weapons have been used against largely civilian populations in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Palestine Action has targeted the headquarters of LaSalle Investment Management, drenching the site in blood-red paint, preventing entry and covering the site in "war crime scene" tape. LaSalle Investment Management, a subsidiary of Jones Lang LaSalle, is the landlord of the London headquarters of Elbit Systems, enabling what the group describes as "murderous operations and facilitation of Israeli war crimes."

LaSalle has so far declined to respond to repeated requests to evict Elbit or to recognise the role that the company plays in the repression of Palestinians and other civilians around the world. Wednesday's direct action marks an escalation against the landlords of all of Elbit's sites in Britain. The group says it will not stop "until Elbit is evicted from the UK and shut down completely."

READ: Direct action against Israel's war machine in Britain worries the occupation state

A press release issued on Wednesday said: "Palestine Action is engaging in a campaign of sustained direct action against Elbit Systems, harming the company's profits as much as possible in order to shut them down completely to prevent further facilitation of the murder of Palestinians." Importantly, the group pointed out that neither Israeli war crimes nor Elbit Systems operate in isolation. "They rely on a global supply chain of manufacturing, shipping, marketing and, of course, landlords, to function effectively. Palestine Action intends to break this murderous supply chain to save Palestinian lives."

It is estimated that Palestine Action's audacious moves have caused the firm to shut down their operations and cost it millions of pounds in lost production.

Elbit Systems is Israel's largest arms manufacturer, producing 85 per cent of Israel's combat and surveillance drones and land-based military equipment. Many Elbit products, in particular the Hermes combat drones, are employed directly in the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza and in the repression and surveillance of Palestinians in the rest of the occupied territories.

The company openly and cynically markets its products as "battle tested", which many activists believe is a reference to the use of these weapons against Palestinian civilians. They say that Elbit exports its deadly products to repressive regimes across the globe. Civilians in Myanmar, Armenia and Sri Lanka, and refugees and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean and English Channel have also reported their use.

One of the greatest supporters of such direct action was civil rights leader the late Dr Martin Luther King, who even has admirers in Israel where the government named a national forest in his honour. It's worth reminding the Israelis and their supporters that it was King who said, "The purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation."

Successive Israeli governments under Benjamin Netanyahu have demonstrated that the occupation state is hell-bent on expanding its territory rather than returning to the 1967 nominal borders (the 1949 Green "Armistice" Line) and allowing a viable state of Palestine to be established. The so-called "peace process" negotiations have wrung concession after concession out of the Palestinians, with nothing given in return. The proposed new "government for change" is unlikely to be any different.

That is why BDS victories such as that seen in Scotland and direct action against those who profit from Israeli apartheid are so important. As long as Israel's occupation is in place, the Zionist state must know that there is a price to pay. Negotiations are all well and good, but freedom and justice for the Palestinians based on human rights and international law must be the priority.

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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