The Palestine Action protest outside the Elbit-owned UAV Tactical Systems factory in Leicestershire’s Meridian Business Park has now entered its 87th day. A small but determined group of protesters is on site 24 hours a day to ensure that the local council doesn’t remove the flags and banners from the protest camp across the road from the factory entrance.
Cries of “murderers” and “child killers” greet workers as they arrive and leave the factory, many of them wearing masks to hide their identity. They are mocked by the activists who ask if they tell their children that they make drones which are used by the Israel Defence Forces to kill Palestinian children.
The drone factory is owned and operated by Israel’s largest weapons company, Elbit Systems, in partnership with French arms firm Thales. Its flagship product is the Watchkeeper drone, modelled on the Hermes 450 after the latter was “battle-tested” on Palestinians. The company boasts that the Watchkeeper allegedly operated for over 100,000 hours over Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite insisting that it only sells to the British military, in fact UAV Tactical Systems exports around £5 million worth of military equipment to Israel yearly, consisting primarily of drones and drone components, along with targeting and surveillance technologies, and other military equipment.
Elbit manufactures 85 per cent of Israel’s military drone fleet, not only arming the Israeli military with these drones and developing the technology, but also operating the drones alongside military personnel, directly assisting them in their attacks. Palestine Action occupied Leicester’s Elbit site for six days in May 2021 at the height of the Israeli military offensive against the Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, a bombing campaign which left over 250 Palestinians dead, including over 60 children.
The company has had to add extra security to its factory on the outskirts of Leicester. According to the protesters, unlike other factories in the area, the staff don’t congregate outside at lunchtime. “It’s as if they have created their own prison, with extra fencing, security guards and dog patrols,” said one. “And then they speed away shamefacedly at the end of every day, unable to look us in the eye.”