The Twickenham Rugby Stadium is in South West London. This is the home of England Rugby, and close beside it lies a local primary school with about 680 children on roll. Since early October, every single week, the Israeli military has killed as many children as attend this local school, the equivalent of wiping out a whole school community of children, week after week.
Every year in January since 2015 there has been an arms fair at the Twickenham Stadium, the International Armoured Vehicles. This year there is a second meeting at the end of February, the International Military Helicopter. Weapons suppliers present their products to some of the most abusive regimes in the world. These events receive very little publicity. Perhaps the Rugby Football Union (RFU) tries to keep the arms fairs secret; are they concerned that residents and rugby supporters may have objections? As the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has pointed out: ‘Companies like Leonardo, Elbit and Raytheon – profiteering from the killing of 20,000 Gazans and counting – will be presenters, guests and sponsors.’ As I write, Al-Jazeera reveals that the death toll in Gaza and the West Bank has reached 23,910, of which 9,684 are children, with 8000 missing. Palestine Action takes direct action against Israel’s arms trade in Britain and has for some time been targeting Elbit, the activists taking great risks on behalf of us all, as their actions, arrests and trials pose a great risk to their freedom and their futures.
Many local residents did not know about the arms fairs, but the local branch of the PSC and their supporters are making sure that local people are being informed. Kingston and Richmond PSC (RKPSC) organises regular stalls and attends the demonstrations in support of Palestine, and every January there is a protest about the arms fairs. Last Saturday, 6th January, there was another well-received stall in the centre of Twickenham. Passers-by stopped to take leaflets and talk to the group and many drivers hooted their horns in solidarity. The supporters on Saturday were drawing attention to the slaughter in Palestine, but also emphasising the fact that the arms fairs are taking place a short distance away and that the unspeakable genocide in Gaza is intimately connected with our arms trade. By pursuing this evil trade we are more than complicit in the destruction of Gaza, we are actively involved. The arms manufacturers are so concerned about making a profit that they do not give a thought to the loss of so many lives. The RKPSC has another a stall in Twickenham on Saturday 20th January and a protest outside the Twickenham Rugby Stadium the following Monday.
One supporter who was handing out leaflets told me that the horrors in Gaza have impacted us all in different ways: ‘I did not enjoy Christmas. I usually do. But I felt so guilty about having my family safely around me, my warm home, clean running water and plenty to eat and drink. There are days when I think of little else but Gaza and the suffering of the people there. And all those children…’.
Another supporter, Afia Bhatti, pointed out: ‘How abhorrent that the home of English Rugby thinks it’s ok to host an Arms Fair at which profiteering arms companies will showcase their military equipment – some of which is currently being used to have killed more than 23,000 people in Gaza and counting. I will at least go to my grave knowing that I did something to stop my local community being complicit in such an abhorrent conference.’
Ayesha Shah added her voice, upset at the absence of support from politicians: ‘These companies are out there bragging about how “restocking” will increase their quarterly earnings. It’s disgusting and has no place in Twickenham. I want arms dealers out of my community. Twickenham Stadium should be ashamed of making blood money and profiting from the Gaza war crimes. Sport should not mix with abusive militaries and despot regimes and arms dealers. I, just an ordinary citizen, feel strongly that I have to stand up and speak. Showing support doesn‘t make me antisemitic or anti-anything. It makes me human.’
Roshan Pedder quoted the great union leader Bob Crow as her inspiration for protesting: ‘If you fight you might lose, but if you don’t fight you will always lose.’
Whilst most people are aware of the large national demonstrations which are reported by the MSM, the smaller, localised protests are never picked up by the national media. These include one person protests, regular street stalls and sit-ins at railway stations. Demonstrators have started carrying placards saying “No ceasefire, no vote”. We will not support MPs in the next election who do not have the courage and integrity to urge for an immediate ceasefire instead of toeing the Government line.
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says: ”The UK has consistently sold arms to Israel, in spite of its illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since 1967. Since Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2007 there have been five major military assaults on Gaza, in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, and 2021, which killed almost 4,000 Palestinians.’ CAAT also publishes a fact sheet with details of UK arms exports to Israel and which weapons are manufactured and where. UK arms exports nearly doubled in 2022 to £8.5bn.
As more and more details of the vile trade and its impact become increasingly widely known, so more of us feel disgust and are prepared to speak out. Arms fairs have been thrown out of other parts of the country. Let us hope the involvement of the people of the Twickenham area and rugby supporters who believe in fair play will achieve a ban on these nauseating events in South West London.
And when we march and declare loudly, ‘We are all Palestinians’, this is a declaration of universality with all the oppressed. Palestine is in our hearts, but we must also be aware of wars in other parts of the world and the risk of a wider war as the situation escalates in the Middle East. We must call to account our own government’s foreign policy, its reckless and unjust priorities and its direct impact on the instability of our planet. Then together we must continue to do all we can to create a better world.