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Palestine Action acquitted in first trial: Hope for anti-drone protest strategy 

December 11, 2021 at 10:45 am

Palestine Action activists occupy the balcony at the offices of Israeli arms company Elbit Systems in England, UK on 6 August 2021 [Guy Smallman/Getty Images]

As I write this, the news is breaking of a terrible tragedy for justice and humanity – a serious blow for press freedom worldwide.

The UK High Court has ruled that Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange can be extradited to the US to stand trial for the crime of journalism.

The ruling overturned the lower court’s decision that Assange could not be extradited, as he was likely to face cruel jail conditions in the US, increasing his suicide risk.

Wikileaks’ Editor-in-chief Kristin Hrafnsson asserted, “the fight will not end here”, and the decision will be appealed again – this time by Assange’s legal team.

The fight is indeed far from over.

Supporters of Julian Assange protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, United Kingdom on October 28, 2021 [Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency]

Supporters of Julian Assange protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, United Kingdom on October 28, 2021 [Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency]

But this doesn’t look good at all, and it sets back Assange’s just cause. Assange is being targeted by the US security state, not for any alleged wrongdoing, but simply for publishing secrets that the US empire did not want to be exposed.

As publisher of Wikileaks, Assange revealed some of the US military’s worst war crimes: in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and all over the world. The massive troves of leaked US diplomatic cables Wikileaks released also included secrets exposing some important wrongdoings of the Israeli government and its global agents and collaborators.

Assange is nothing less than a political prisoner of the corrupt British state, and he has been given nothing but sham trials riddled with blatant conflicts of interest and other irregularities.

The entire farce is a grave threat to the very concept of free and independent journalism that actually holds power to account. Assange would be immediately freed and showered with awards and praise in any functioning democracy.

But, unfortunately, we do not live in such a country.

Another court case this week, however, showed that despite the corruption in high places, some lower-level judges can still administer a degree of justice in this country.

Three activists from the British campaign group Palestine Action were found not guilty of criminal damage after defacing an Israeli drone engine factory in the Midlands earlier this year.

The so-called “Elbit Three” in January chained themselves to the gates of the UAV Engines factory in Shenstone, near Birmingham. They also threw glass bottles full of red paint at the factory walls to symbolise the blood of the Palestinian victims of Israel’s killer drones, which habitually terrorise Palestine.

The factory is a subsidiary of Elbit, Israel’s largest private arms firm, notorious for producing 80 per cent of its drone fleet. Elbit has ten sites across the UK, including four arms factories.

These sites have been a major target for campaigns and direct action for many years. But since Palestine Action was founded last year, protests against Elbit have stepped up a notch, with a regular, sustained, and growing campaign of direct action against the firm.

The campaign has not been without cost. Police are aggressively pursuing the protestors for prosecution and harassment – in one instance, preposterously accusing them of “blackmail” for “threatening” to stage a hunger strike. Police have also raided activists’ homes and even illegally confiscated passports.

Palestine Action currently has a dozen separate ongoing prosecutions pending against its activists. Yet, despite this, the case that resulted in Monday’s acquittal was the first to actually come to trial. Several others have repeatedly been delayed, and a similar case in January last year was dropped by prosecutors after Elbit refused to make disclosures about its shady activities in the UK.

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Judge Marcus Waite at Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates Court ruled that the prosecution had not proven its case.

Defence lawyers, including Palestinian barrister Mira Hammad, successfully argued that while the activists’ actions had damaged the factory, it was not criminal damage since it was proportionate action to prevent a much bigger crime in Palestine – that of Israeli violence against Palestinians.

This principled strategy of trying to flip court cases around, so that it is Elbit’s involvement in Israeli war crimes that are on trial instead, has a history of working well in British courts and elsewhere.

Monday’s verdict was a welcomed breakthrough, showing that the direct-action strategy can work.

Let’s hope the other prosecutions – should they even come to trial – will also result in exonerations.

But what we really need to see is Elbit and Israel on trial for war crimes.

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