Case dropped against protesters who cost Elbit drone parts factory $280,000

UK activists shut down an Elbit factory for two days in August 2014.

London Palestine Action

Criminal charges against against nine Palestine solidarity activists who shut down a UK drone engines factory for two days last summer were dropped at the end of January.

The case had been due to go to trial next week. But the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) pulled out at the last minute after company managers mysteriously decided to go back on previous commitments to testify against the nine.

One of the protesters, Adie Mormech, told The Electronic Intifada today that this was a “green light for further action” by activists against the factory.

Ewa Jasiewicz, another of the nine, said that UAV Engines Limited was now a “prime target” for nonviolent action to shut the factory down. UAV Engines is owned by Israeli arms firm Elbit Systems.

Jasiewicz said the group accused the factory of making engines for drones used in Israeli attacks against Palestinians. Everything the factory says should be treated with skepticism, she said: “The most decisive evidence, we feel, is that they dropped the charges.” In other words, they let the activists get away with it rather then let the truth come out in court.

The nine published an opinion piece at Mondoweiss today calling for more direct action and are part of London Palestine Action.

Disclosures avoided

Scaling the roof of the factory on 5 August last year, the nine protesters locked the front gate of the factory, locked themselves down to the roof, unfurled a banner and bunked down for the night, saying they had enough supplies to last them a week.

At the height of Israel’s killings of civilians in the Gaza Strip that summer, the protesters were drawing attention to the UK’s arms trade with Israel, and called for a comprehensive two-way arms ban. Their banner read “UK: Stop Arming Israel.”

Lawyers for the defendants say the case collapsed after either Elbit or the UK government decided they did not want to disclose details about licenses for arms exports to Israel.

The activists had pleaded not guilty to charges of “preventing lawful activity” on the basis that the Staffordshire factory was aiding and abetting war crimes and that its regular business was therefore illegal.

The group argued in pre-trial hearings and statements that they acted “to prevent the inevitable death, injury and suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

Elbit “running scared”

The CPS told The Independent on Friday that the case was dropped after two witnesses from the company were no longer prepared to give evidence, and that documentation would not be forthcoming. “We deemed that there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction,” the CPS said.

Based on police reports and witness statements examined by The Electronic Intifada, these two witnesses are thought to be David Cliff and Jody Yates, two managers at UAV Engines named as key witnesses for the prosecution along with fourteen police officers.

The defendants’ legal team asked for disclosure of documents relating to UAV Engines’ export licences, as well as documents on any checks done by the government to ensure that parts produced by the factory were not being used by Israel in its attacks on Gaza.

Jessica Nero, one of the defendants, said in a press release that the group had mixed feelings about the case being dropped: “This news is bittersweet for us, as Elbit and the UK government have run scared from having their role in Israeli war crimes put on trial.”

Elbit’s drones played a key role in Israel’s killings of more than 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza last summer, Nero noted. “UN bodies and international human rights organizations have accused Israel of war crimes during its recent Gaza massacre,” she added. “What will it take for the UK government to impose a two-way military embargo on Israel and hold it accountable for its crimes against humanity?”

The UK has authorized £49 million ($73.6 million) worth of arms sales to Israel since 2010. Figures from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade show that the UK exported £7 million ($10.5 million) of weapons in the six months leading up to the summer 2014 war on Gaza, including components for drones.

Direct action

The dropping of the case by UK prosecutors leaves many unanswered questions. But what seems in little doubt now is that the UAV Engines factory now may now be exposed to similar protests in future.

According to general manager David Cliff in a written police statement, seen by The Electronic Intifada, direct labor costs to the company of the protest amounted to between £10,000 and £11,000 (between $15,000 and $16,500). Workers had to be sent home for the duration.

Cliff also wrote that: “The value of lost production for the two days we were forced to close amounted to £186,000” – almost $280,000.

In his statement, Cliff also confirmed that UAV Engines “is owned by Elbit Systems which is based in Israel” and that it made drone engines.

In one bizarre sentence, Cliff describes the rooftop protesters “as vagrant youths.” He claimed there was “a safety concern with the staff as we don’t know what the protesters are capable of.”

But in one tellingly defensive line, Cliff claimed: “We are a legitimate company that supply engines all over the world but we do not supply to Israel. [sic] for use in Israel.”

This section of the handwritten statement has a period between “we do not supply to Israel” and “for use in Israel.” This makes it seem like the latter statement was an afterthought, perhaps dictated by a company lawyer.

Jasiewicz said the company was playing a “semantic game” to obscure its material support for Israeli war crimes.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He first visited Palestine in 2004.