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The makers of Israel’s deadly drones continue to evade British justice

March 28, 2022 at 3:11 pm

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]

It’s impossible to pick out one single act of brutality committed by Israel’s occupation forces over another, because there have been so many in eight decades of the Palestinian struggle for survival. Each atrocity bears the hallmarks of a crime against humanity: Deir Yassin in 1948 — at least 107 Palestinians slaughtered by Zionist terrorists; Qibya, 1953 — at least 69 Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers led by Ariel Sharon; Kafr Qasim, 1956 — 48 Palestinians killed by Israeli police; Bahr El-Baqar Primary School, 1970 — 46 Egyptian children killed; Sabra and Shatila, 1982 — up to 3,500 Palestinian refugees killed by Israel’s allies, although Israel’s own inquiry put the blame on Ariel Sharon — yes, him again — and the Israel Defence Forces; and Wehda Street, Gaza, 2021 — residential street bombed by Israel, 44 Palestinians killed. These are all examples and a far from complete list of the massacres of innocent civilians by Israel.

One of these which stands out for me is the slaughter of four schoolboys aged ten and eleven years as they played football on the beach in Gaza in 2014. The war crime — what else can you call a missile attack on children playing in the sand? — unfolded in front of representatives of the world’s media who witnessed the killing of the Bakr family cousins.

We now know that the children were killed by missiles launched from an armed drone; possibly even a drone containing parts manufactured in Britain. That is just one of the reasons why activists belonging to Palestine Action target drone factories in Britain owned by Elbit, Israel’s largest private arms manufacturer and supplier.

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It may also be the reason why not one single activist from the group has ever been convicted of a crime despite being arrested and charged by the police. It is possible that the arms manufacturers do not want to give evidence in a British court which would expose for all to see how they knowingly sell their deadly products to armies that deploy and use their weapons against civilians, especially Palestinian civilians.

The effective direct activism of Palestine Action was rewarded earlier this year when news emerged about the closure of the Elbit Ferranti site in Oldham, Greater Manchester. Elbit sold Ferranti technologies, because its operations in Oldham became unfeasible. Over an 18-month period, campaigners occupied, blockaded, smashed, disrupted and protested regularly at the site, and succeeded in ending Elbit’s production of specialist military technologies for Israel’s fleet of combat drones.

Not content with resting on their laurels, activists returned to the site of Elbit System’s UAV Tactical Systems drone factory just outside Leicester on Monday morning. They pledged not to leave until Elbit is shut down for good.

Raiding the site at dawn, the activists halted operations by using a van to block the factory gates. Their direct action tactics stopped the manufacture of Elbit’s Hermes/Watchkeeper drones, which are sold to the Israeli military and on to other countries after being “battle tested” on Palestinian civilians. Today’s action marks another escalation in the campaign to #ShutElbitDown, renewing the occupations of drone factories to force the closure of more sites operated by Elbit. Palestine Action says that it will continue this direct action until the company has ceased all operations in the United Kingdom.

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While the Leicestershire Police were duty bound to do something about the protesters, and they duly arrested them, it would be encouraging if a British police force — London’s Metropolitan Police, for example — could investigate the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity levelled at Israel; then arrest the people in this country who aid and abet such crimes. Britain has a universal jurisdiction law, but it is never used to prosecute Israelis. Indeed, the Conservative government changed the law to make it easier for Israeli politicians to enter Britain without the threat of prosecution. But what about the makers of weapons, such as Elbit, used in war crimes and crimes against humanity? Why is nothing done about them?

People who break the law in order to prevent a greater crime from being committed should be applauded and not arrested. Somebody in Israel has yet to be held to account for the killing of the Gaza schoolboys and the thousands of other civilian victims of Israel’s brutal military occupation. Israel’s allies, including those in Britain, also continue to evade justice. It is time for police officers to be investigating them rather than the activists involved in relatively petty vandalism and damage to property.

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