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26 Jan 2024

Tom Well, Open Democracy

UK: Seven protesters, including two Israeli nationals, are on trial for "burglary" for direct action against Israeli weapons manufacturers Elbit Systems; Incl. Co. comment

"Israeli nationals on trial over protest at Elbit UK’s head office"

Two Israeli dissidents have claimed they damaged the British headquarters of an Israeli-owned drone manufacturer to save Palestinian lives in the first court case of its kind in the UK.

Stavit Sinai and Ronnie Barkan – along with five other pro-Palestinian activists – are accused of burglary and criminal damage for allegedly breaking into the head office of Elbit Systems UK (Elbit UK) on the northern outskirts of Bristol in May 2022. It is thought to be the first time that Israeli nationals have been put on trial after taking part in direct action against an Israeli-owned defence company in the UK. The case continues next week in Bristol Crown Court.

Sinai, who grew up in Haifa, Israel, has accepted she used a sledgehammer and a small glass hammer to break windows in the offices of Elbit UK, which is owned by the Israeli military’s main supplier, Elbit Systems Ltd...

She said she chose to target a subsidiary company rather than the parent company in Israel because she feared she would have been “shot in the head” if she had done so. She described the site in Bristol as the “nerve centre” of Elbit UK.

She added that the international campaign against apartheid in South Africa had used similar tactics. “Taking action outside of the country where the crimes are taking place… has been proven to be extremely efficient to exert pressure on the perpetrators,” she said...

The court was told by [the defence] that there is “a very significant connection” between Elbit Systems UK and the Israeli state. A video played to the jury showed the Israeli ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, attending the opening of Elbit’s factory in Bristol in the summer of 2023. Hotovely was seen describing products produced by the UK company as “ours” and referring to the firm as an Israeli “defence technology company”.

A document of facts agreed by the prosecution and defence shows that Elbit UK and two of its UK-listed subsidiary companies – UAV Engines Ltd and Instro-Precision Ltd – have been granted 51 licences by the UK government to export military equipment, including drone engines, targeting systems and surveillance systems, to the Israeli state between 2016 and 2021. UAV Engines was granted a further licence in February 2022 to export military aero-engines to Israel Aerospace Industries, which is owned by the Israeli state.

The court was told by Greenhall that Elbit UK’s Israeli parent company Elbit Systems Ltd supplies 85% of land-based equipment used by the Israeli military, with the firm marketing its drones as the “backbone of the Israeli Defence Force”.

The case also saw a senior Elbit executive give evidence in a UK court for what is thought to be the first time.

Alan Wright, Elbit UK’s vice president of sales and marketing, said the company's main customers were in the UK, where it provided technology to the aerospace, defence and homeland security sectors. He said the company shipped products to its parent company in Israel for support and repairs. But he insisted it did not supply the Israeli military: “[Elbit UK] does not provide products to the IDF.”

Wright, a director of UAV Engines, denied the UK company had a connection to the Israeli state: “[Elbit UK] operates in the UK as a UK-listed company and therefore operates within the bounds of UK law.”

Under cross-examination by Greenhall, Wright accepted there was a “very significant overlap” between senior staff at Elbit UK and its Israeli parent company “in certain areas”. He also accepted there was a “very large overlap” in the product portfolios of the two companies.

Two of the three executive directors of Elbit UK are also directors of Elbit Systems Ltd.

Wright also accepted that Elbit UK’s profits “flow back to the parent company” in Israel, which has ultimate control over the UK company.