There are many important news items we cannot cover in our Sunday Socialist or in our regular weekday news pieces. This News Digest covers a few stories which have not received a great deal of publicity and a recommendation for a book which may not be well known.
Much of our media’s attention has been on our Government and the Labour opposition continuing to support Israel, reinforcing their belief that Israel’s war crimes in Gaza are justified by a right to self-defence. Behind the scenes the arms industry is booming, with demand and profits increasing all the time. Details of the scandals and corruption, bribery and even murder at the heart of the global weapons trade are revealed in Andrew Feinstein’s 2011 book, ‘The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade‘, in his 2016 documentary ‘Shadow World’ and other activities and publications by Shadow World Investigations.
2022 – a bumper year for the UK arms industry
Figures recently published by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) show that the UK arms industry benefited from £8.5 million worth of arms export licences in 2022. But there is more: these figures do not include “open licences”, licences which permit unlimited arms sales. BAE Systems, for example, has reported record sales. Reuters published information in August that BAE has upgraded its earnings forecast for 2023. Growth of 10-12% is now predicted. BAE Systems has benefitted from increasing demand worldwide, international instability and direct sales to Ukraine.
Of course the UK has consistently sold weapons to Israel and is complicit in the genocide taking place in Gaza. Not only do we sell arms, but we also encourage the Israeli military to continue with the destruction of Gaza and the slaughter of the Palestinian people.
Activists in Washington block the shipment of weapons to Israel
Earlier this month, crowds gathered at the Port of Tacoma, both at the port and in side streets so that there was a blockade in all directions. This prevented the trucks carrying weapons for Israel from reaching the loading zone. There are reports that the security personnel at the port were aggressive and sometimes violent, but this did not stop others from joining the protestors. The Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), also took action to stop the ship from leaving the Port of Oakland in California a few days before. AROC declared on X/Twitter: “Oakland says no to military aid to Israel! We call on workers around the world to stand against genocide! Ceasefire now!”
There are numerous other actions taking place in different parts of the United States, including the blocking of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and taking over the headquarters of Fox News in New York where protestors chanted: “Fox News, Fox News, you can’t hide, your lies cover up GENOCIDE.”
Public support for the Biden administration’s backing of Israel has now fallen considerably, with only 32% in agreement with government policy. The majority of US citizens support a ceasefire.
Palestine Action activists on trial
Palestine Action takes direct action against Israel’s arms trade in Britain. One of their main aims is to shut Elbit down. The impact of Palestine Action has rarely featured in our MSM reporting, but by keeping up the pressure the activists have managed to shut down at least two Elbit sites in under two years. Ministry of Defence contracts with Elbit worth hundreds of millions of pounds sterling have been cancelled. This is probably partly due to some of the actions of this group. Palestine Action protestors have been sent for trial, and in December 2021 three activists who blockaded Shenstone factory were acquitted on the principle of proportionality. The judge ruled that their actions were a proportionate response to the activities carried out by Elbit. Last week the trial began of the Elbit Eight at Snaresbrook Crown Court. They are on trial for disrupting a lethal link in Israel’s military supply chain within the UK. Fatimah Yasmin Ahmed wrote in a recent edition of Counterfire: “This movement has made it inescapable and impossible to ignore Britain’s role in the genocide, it has made it clear that Britain’s complicity never ended, from Balfour to Elbit.”
Six month jail sentence for direct action to save the planet
After marching alongside 66 other Just Stop Oil supporters in London last week, Phoebe Plummer, one of five other Just Stop Oil activists who have been sent to jail in the last two weeks, received a six month prison sentence for protesting, charged with a Public Order Act 2023 Section 7 offence, interference with the operation of key national infrastructure. This is one of the new hostile and vindictive laws brought in by the Conservatives this year. Phoebe became known for throwing soup on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in the National Gallery just over a year ago, commenting at the time that Van Gogh “would’ve supported the method of non-violent, direct action”. In fact, despite the furore at the time, the painting itself was never in any danger as it was covered by glass and therefore entirely unharmed.
Phoebe was sentenced at Highbury Magistrates Court where Judge McDonnell commented that Phoebe would continue to protest if released. When asked whether this was likely, Phoebe responded: “I will continue exercising my human right to protest, yes…I will continue to march while they continue to licence new oil, gas and coal. How many more children have to die before you listen? How many more floods have to wipe out entire villages? How many people will die before you stop sending people like me to prison? Sir Mark Rowley has been handed a dossier of evidence. Why won’t you investigate the real criminals?”
Many ordinary people are taking risks by protesting regularly and with great commitment and they need our solidarity and support. Life in prison is not an enjoyable experience.
Women in Black
Many Londoners or visitors to London will have seen the Women in Black (WiB), who stand for an hour every Wednesday by the Edith Cavill statue in Central London, calling for an end to militarism and war. Women in Black began in Israel in 1988 during the first intifada. A new book about these women and their protest has recently been published, ‘Women in Black: Against Violence, for Peace with Justice’, by Cynthia Cockburn and Sue Finch; it is reviewed in Peace News by Henrietta Cullinan. The group has expanded, has had some struggles and is often misunderstood, but there is a very positive section in the last chapter about action in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, where essential work took place and connections made despite the pandemic: “This contemporary example shows the role of WiB as an international solidarity network that promotes alternative visions for peace.”
Women in Black is an example of “how different groups can work together even when they don’t share the same views”. We can’t always agree on the way forward, nor on our priorities, but working together is one of the keys to protesting effectively about the many injustices and evils in the world and determinedly making our voices heard to bring about change.