Campaigners in France are welcoming a decision by their country’s military not to buy the Watchkeeper drone, which is based on a model Israel has used in hundreds of lethal attacks on Palestinian civilians.
Watchkeeper is built by a joint venture between Israel’s biggest arms maker Elbit Systems and the UK subsidiary of France’s Thales.
Defense News reported that “Watchkeeper was widely expected to be selected,” but instead the French government picked the Patroller drone made by domestic consortium Sagem.
More than 8,000 people had signed a petition launched by BDS France in September calling on the defense ministry not to pick the Israeli drone.
BDS France says that as part of its campaign against the Israeli drone, thousands of postcards were sent to President François Hollande.
“If the choice of Sagem does not represent total independence from Israel, dumping the Thales-Elbit drone is a success for the BDS campaign,” the activist group says.
Sagem’s Patroller has more than 80 percent French content, according to Defense News, while Watchkeeper has as little as 10 percent. It is unclear if any of the Patroller’s parts are Israeli.
Unlike with other wins, BDS France is striking a somber tone: “We cannot celebrate the choice of such weapons which could open the way for armed drones in the French army, when such weapons could kill or contribute to killing civilians, as the Israeli army did in Gaza.”
Defense News said that Sagem, Thales and the French government’s military procurement office declined to comment on the decision.
“Field tested” on Palestinians
In 2014, the UK deployed its new Watchkeeper drones in Afghanistan.
Watchkeeper is based on Elbit’s Hermes 450 drone, which Israel “has ‘field tested’ in attacks on Gaza which left many Palestinians dead, including children,” the UK charity War on Want stated in a 2013 report.
The report, “Killer Drones: UK complicity in Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people,” says more than 800 Palestinians were killed by Israeli drones between 2006 and 2011.
They included 12-year-old Mamoun al-Dam, who was killed by an Israeli drone strike in the occupied Gaza Strip on 20 June 2012 as he played football.
Last July, during the first anniversary of Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza, activists in the UK shut down four Elbit Systems factories.
This included a factory that made engines for drones used in Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
Weeks earlier, French activists staged a “die-in” outside the Elbit Systems pavilion at the Paris Air Show, one of the world’s biggest annual events for military and civilian aircraft sales.