It must be rather humiliating when you claim to be a world leader in security and surveillance systems but have your own headquarters breached frequently by a disparate group of angry citizens armed with nothing more than red paint and innovative ideas about peaceful resistance to a brutal military occupation enabled by your company's products. That is the dilemma facing Elbit Systems UK, Israel's largest private arms manufacturer and dealer, which has been forced to quit its prestigious London headquarters for the city of Bristol in the south-west of England. Israel's leading arms dealer is running scared.
The retreat from the British capital is indeed humiliating, and is yet another major victory for Palestine Action, which claims that it was behind the closure of the Elbit factory in Oldham in January. Elbit Systems UK announced that it had sold Ferranti Technologies Power and Control business (Ferranti P&C), based in Waterhead, to British company TT Electronics for £9 million. PA activists had targeted the Ferranti Technologies site for 18 months, making the continued operation of Elbit in Oldham unfeasible.
Despite these two victories, the activists in Palestine Action — many of whom are already facing trial in Crown Courts around England on charges of criminal damage — say that they will not stop until all of Elbit's factories of death are closed for good.
Elbit is an Israel-owned international defence electronics company that is "engaged in a wide range of homeland security and commercial programmes around the world". That's the proud boast on its website and at arms fairs, but the ugly reality is that many of its weapons have been battle-tested on Palestinian civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip and elsewhere in occupied Palestine.
As I wrote in MEMO in March, one of the most heinous crimes Israel has carried out in recent years took place in Gaza when four schoolboy cousins aged ten and eleven years were killed as they played football on the beach 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 slaughter of the Bakr family boys.
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.
I have tried to contact Elbit for a comment, but the company doesn't make it easy as there's no phone number to find. Nevertheless, I left a polite media request which, at the time of writing, had not received a response. I asked why Elbit has quit its London HQ and is currently advertising jobs on its website saying: "All the positions will be based full-time or with alternative flexible arrangement from our offices in Bristol or home-based (where the job allows)."
It's difficult to know if Elbit quit its Central London office voluntarily or was told by the landlord to leave following complaints from other tenants in the Kingsway office block. The final straw may well have come at the start of this month when the pro-Palestine campaigners launched the seventh attack on the HQ in under four weeks. While they were targeting the London site, around a dozen other "red paint" operations were launched across the country in the same period.
Police have arrested the activists on numerous occasions, but while some trials have been abandoned other defendants have been acquitted on the grounds that they committed a crime to prevent a greater crime: the slaughter of innocents in Palestine. Elbit executives appear reluctant to push for prosecutions; could that be because they would be required to give evidence under oath about the weapons they make and how they have been and still are used?
There are thought to be 20 other criminal cases in the pipeline emanating from direct but peaceful action by members of the pro-Palestine group. Understandably, the activists say that they would welcome their day in court to explain why they've damaged Elbit property.
Palestine Action has made it abundantly clear that its members' conscience-led vandalism won't stop until the UK-backed oppression of Palestine ends. I have to admit that there's something rather pleasing about the group's direct action and effective use of blood-red paint.
However, isn't it time for the police to stop acting as enforcers for the Israeli arms dealer and start instead to ask more direct questions about why these activists are prepared to risk their liberty to stop these weapons from being made?
There are, without doubt, crimes being committed, but not by Palestine Action. The activists' inspired and inspirational courage reminds me of my youth in the turbulent, rebellious 70s, when the iconic rock band The Clash, symbolising intelligent protest and stylish insurrection, had a hit with the song "I fought the law and the law won". Perhaps the lyrics are worth revisiting as a tribute to Palestine Action. How about: "We fought the law and we won?"
Seriously though, has it ever occurred to the police that Elbit Systems is reluctant to go to court and give evidence against the activists in case their lawyers start asking awkward questions? It's blindingly obvious that Elbit has something to hide, and yet it is hiding in plain view: its products are used by an apartheid state; apartheid is akin to a crime against humanity. Moreover, Israel is committing war crimes on a daily basis in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Sherlock Holmes might well have observed about Elbit that, "It has a grand gift for silence," but that's not good enough. The full weight of the law should not be focused on the activists of Palestine Action, but turned on those who arm and enable Israel to conduct its brutal military occupation. Elbit should be in the dock; not the activists of Palestine Action.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.