Image courtesy of Palestine Action

As our frustration with the intransigence of the establishment in the face of injustice has grown, direct action sometimes feels the only way to protest. The term “direct action” was first widely used by the revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), in 1910. Canadian anarchist Ann Hansen, active in the early 1980s, wrote in her 2001 book Direct Action that those involved in direct action are “rejecting those who claim to represent their true interests, whether they be revolutionaries or government officials”. David Graeber believed “Direct action is, ultimately, the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free”.

After Hamas attacked Israel on 7th October, Benjamin Netanyahu announced: “We will turn Gaza into a deserted island”. The Defence Minister Yolav Galant raged: ”I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed…We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly…We will eliminate everything.” Despite this, our Prime Minister and our Leader of the Opposition have given their support for UK arms exports and components to be used in the slaughter of Palestinian civilians.

SInce 2015, the UK has approved more than £474 million worth of arms to Israel, despite Israel’s repeated violations of international law and its illegal occupation of  Palestinian lands. But the true figure of arms exports to Israel is considerably higher, as government data does not include open licences, which allow the transfer of unlimited amounts of listed military items with no requirement to report them. One item which is not included in export figures is the F-35 combat aircraft. The UK produces 15% of the value of each one of these. 

Elbit Systems is the largest Israeli military manufacturer and was founded in 1966. It produces 85% of the Israel Defence Force’s land-based equipment as well as 85% of the drones used by the Israeli Air Force. Elbit advertises its products as “battle-tested” by the Israel Defence Force in Gaza and the West Bank. This means that they have been used to kill Palestinians.

Our support for Palestine and our anger at the Israeli killing have led us to take part in numerous forms of protest, but for almost four years now Palestine Action activists have been risking their futures by taking direct action against corporations supplying arms to Israel. The statement on Palestine Action’s website is unequivocal and determined: “Shut Elbit Down: Take direct action against Israel’s arms trade in Britain”. Palestine Action was created in July 2020 when activists broke into Elbit Systems’ UK headquarters in London and spray-painted some of the interior. They carry out regular action against Elbit Systems and other companies complicit in Israeli apartheid and demand the closure of all weapons factories. The Canary’s editorial at the beginning of this month stated: “Palestine Action is doing what disgraceful politicians dare not do: shutting down Israel’s supply of weapons and finance used in crimes against humanity and genocide” and quoted a Palestine Action spokesperson: “Elbit’s drones, munitions, arms and military technologies have been used to slaughter Palestinians in their thousands – but the company has a far longer history of facilitating atrocities. It is abhorrent that they are still allowed to operate in Britain. Activists have taken the matter into their own hands to halt the corrupt, bloodthirsty industry fuelling death from Britain’s towns.” 

Palestine Action has had notable achievements recently. The Defence IQ’s International Armoured Vehicles fair was hosted by English Rugby (RFU) in Twickenham Stadium in January. The RFU also welcomed the International Military Helicopters 2024 Arms Fair last week. Hours before the first fair opened, Palestine Action splashed the stadium in blood red paint, symbolising the blood of slaughtered Palestinians. 

Last year there was an expansive strategy of aiming to disrupt the suppliers and facilitators of Elbit’s work in Britain, including accountants, haulage providers and landlords. There was a remarkable success at the end of November last year after some weeks of Palestine Action disrupting IO Associates, the sole recruiters of engineers, software developers, and finance staff for Elbit. The company declared that they had ended their association with Elbit Systems. Of course, we do not know whether IO Associates were concerned about the morality of their work, but Palestine Action made the recruitment process virtually impossible. The company had to vacate their offices, had their online presence tarnished, and lost staff who resigned in opposition to their arms trade partnership. This exemplary direct action was barely mentioned in the national press. 

In December Palestine Action shut down the Mayfair offices of property firm, LondonMetric, Landlords of Elbit Systems’ UAV Tactical Systems drone factory in Leicester, after they doused the building with red paint and used a lock-on device on their arms to prevent entry to the building. In January, supported by the Bristol-based group ‘Rise Up for Palestine’, Palestine Action blocked access to and shut down the Israeli-owned Elbit weapons Bristol headquarters. In February, after a campaign of direct action by Palestine Action, the transportation business Kuehne+Nagel (K+N) announced they had ended all ties with Elbit Systems and will not be working with them again in the future. There are many other examples of bold successful direct action against Elbit Systems and the weapons trade. 

Palestine Action activists are frequently in court. In a landmark case in December last year, a group of eight, the #ElbitEight, among them the co-founders of Palestine Action, faced trial for a range of charges which included conspiracy to blackmail, burgle and destroy Israel’s arms trade in Britain. After a six-week trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London, jurors acquitted the eight defendants of a total of nine charges in December, but failed to reach a decision on 23 others. However, six of the eight are to face a retrial in 2025 on the other counts. One of the defendants, Milly Arnott, described the wait for a retrial as a “form of psychological warfare on defendants, because it’s another year and a half where we can’t progress with our life – you can’t make long-term decisions, or get jobs.”

The trials stretch ahead and are planned between now and June 2025. Sometimes the trials are dropped, such as one due later this month for the #Bristol4 for their action in Bristol in November last yearl. The next trial, starting on 2nd April in Edinburgh, is of three activists, the #Leonardo3, who scaled the roof and dismantled Leonardo’s weapons factory in Edinburgh. This meant that the production of laser targeting systems for Israel’s F-35 fighter jets was halted. 

Activists have been imprisoned. Four were sent to prison in December 2022 after taking action to dismantle Teledyne Labtech, a Welsh factory belonging to American-owned Teledyne. Two were locked up over an action they took in June 2021 at APPH, which makes drone landing gear for Elbit Systems. There was a day of international action in support of the six prisoners in July last year after some high-profile campaigners, including Roger Waters, issued a statement which condemned Britain for its persecution of the six prisoners.

Many people believe that we live in a democracy based on the Rule of Law. But there are also many of us who believe in a morality and duty higher than any laws created by Parliament. And of course many laws are unjust. Our justice system has shown time and again that it values protecting property above the well-being of its citizens and above human life itself. There have been numerous activists all over the world who have risked their futures and their lives because they have felt it imperative to take a stand and become involved in direct action. The Palestine Action activists are among these, breaking the law for a higher moral purpose in a country where the morality of our political establishment has reached an all time low. These courageous people deserve our loyal support. 

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