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13 Nov 2023

Anita Mureithi, Open Democracy

UK: Trial begins against pro-Palestine protestors for their protest against Elbit UK for alleged complicity in “murderous arms trade” with Israel

"The ‘other’ Palestine protesters quietly shutting down arms factories"

Thousands of miles from Gaza, a group of activists have spent the last three years battling arms manufacturers whose weapons they say are being used against Palestinian civilians.

Among them are members of the ‘Elbit Eight’, the latest group of activists set to face trial for taking direct action against arms companies. From Monday, they will be fighting charges of conspiracy to commit criminal damage, burglary, and – for some – blackmail.

The charges relate to a series of protests held during the first six months of the group’s inception in 2020. They have since led several mobilisations around the country targeting the factories and offices of firms accused of supplying munitions used in Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Their main target – Elbit Systems – is Israel’s largest arms producer, providing at least 85% of drones used by the Israeli military. Their methods have included sit-ins, blockades and paint jobs.

When a handful of activists stormed the London headquarters of Elbit in July 2020, co-founder Huda Ammori says, they were spurred on by the realisation that “there wasn’t a democratic process in this country when it came to Palestine… direct action was the only route left”...

Ammori said previous tactics she’d tried, such as writing to MPs, signing petitions and campaigning for divestment were ineffective because of an “institutional unwillingness” to accept the facts surrounding the human rights violations against Palestinians...

“But the difference when it comes to supporting Palestine is you get this even more intense repression, and especially since the start of this current genocide since October. Other rights movements have a bit more freedom to speak about the issues, even if they also experience intense repression when they take direct action. With Palestine, it’s got to the point now where there’s a TfL driver who’s been referred to the British Transport Police just because he said ‘free Palestine’ over the tannoy of the train, and now he risks losing his job. Police have gone to visit people’s houses because they’re flying Palestinian flags.”

She added: “It feels to me that we’re seeing this massive acceleration into authoritarianism in the UK and I think the government is capitalising on this moment to try and repress people’s ability to publicly criticise UK foreign policy and Israel more than ever.”

Despite this, Palestine Action has continued to call on further mobilisation. The group created a website detailing information about 50 companies it intends to target in the UK, all of which activists say are complicit in the “murderous arms trade”.

While Elbit UK did not respond to openDemocracy’s request for comment, a spokesperson for the company has previously denied accusations made by Palestine Action that it manufactures the Hermes drone, calling the group’s claims a “fabrication”. Elbit UK has also denied exporting arms to Israel – but data by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) shows a series of export approvals to Israel from the UK. Last month, openDemocracy also revealed that the UK has no plans to stop arms sales to Israel despite civilian deaths...

The fight has indeed spread to Palestine Action’s US counterparts. Activists taking part in similar blockades and actions against US-based Elbit factories have targeted three separate locations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington DC in the last week alone.

Elbit reported significant losses in 2022. In December, it lost two contracts worth over £280m with the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy as the protests unfolded. Both Elbit and the government denied Palestine Action had played a role in the withdrawal of the contracts, with justice secretary Alex Chalk claiming the decision was related to “revised operational sovereignty standards”, but the timing of the announcement – one contract was just seven months old – has led the activists to believe otherwise.

This has not gone unnoticed by Israeli officials. Earlier this year, an FOI request submitted by Palestine Action revealed that members of the Israeli embassy in London had tried to convince the attorney general’s office to intervene in court cases relating to the prosecution of protesters in the UK...

“What’s been the most disturbing to me has been the response of the [criminal justice system] to Palestine Action. We have seen legal means being weaponised against people who dare to engage in direct action,” said Hourani.

“But taking action really sends a clear message the British government that we do not accept British workers and British labour being utilised to manufacture weapons that are being used to wage a war and commit genocide against the Palestinian people. The blockade really sent a clear message of ‘not in our name’”...