Update, 18 February: Tom Anderson confirmed to me today that the protesters concluded their action last night, with no arrests made. The factory was closed for the whole day.
At 5am this morning, Palestine solidarity campaigners shut down a factory in Britain owned by the Israeli arms firm Elbit.
At the time of publication, four of the activists are on the rooftop of the plant – located in the English county of Kent – and others are gathered in front, with one locking onto the fence. Though operating under the name Instro Precision, the factory is owned by Elbit, a leading supplier of drones to the Israeli military.
One of the protesters, Tom Anderson, told The Electronic Intifada over the phone that “no workers have come in.” He said police were stopping and checking cars that wanted to enter the industrial estate the factory is part of, and have apparently told the company not to send its staff in.
He said police had initially stolen some of their water and food supplies, but had later backed off when journalists had arrived at the scene.
Anderson said the shut-down was “part of the international campaign against Elbit” and aimed to “keep the pressure up” on the company after a similar action at another Elbit-owned factory in the UK.
The protest comes soon after the Crown Prosecution Service decided last month to drop its case against another group of activists who, in summer 2014, shut down UAV Engines Limited, another Elbit-owned factory, for two days.
UAV Engines Limited apparently decided to let the group get away with shutting down the factory, despite the precedent it set for activists. The court case would have involved disclosing details of the arms trade between the UK and Israel which apparently the firm (or someone in the government, or both) did not want coming to light.
Anderson said that the protest has received a lot of support from local people. He also drew parallels with Carmel-Agrexco, an exporter of goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank which was forced into liquidation in 2011.
The company had been a primary target of campaigners for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
It once had a factory in Uxbridge, near London. But the company eventually gave up trying to prosecute activists who had blockaded the factory in a similar fashion. In 2006 a judge dismissed the case against the “Uxbridge Seven.”
Instro Precision is a manufacturer of military targeting systems. Its optical equipment is used in drones such as those Israel used to bombard Gaza during the summer of 2014, say the activists. Such surveillance equipment has also been installed in Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank.
Some 2,257 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in Israel’s summer onslaught in Gaza, according to the UN monitoring group OCHA. Elbit supplies 85 percent of the drones used by the Israeli military.
Anderson, a researcher with Corporate Watch, said in a statement: “We are here because we want to stop Elbit from supplying weapons which are used to massacre people in Gaza and Afghanistan. In 2013 I visited Gaza and spoke to the survivors of Israeli drone strikes. They told me that they wanted people to take action to prevent the companies that manufactured the drones that killed their loved ones from making equipment that will cause others to suffer the way they have.”
Rida Abu Zneid, a young woman from Gaza who saw her sister ripped apart in front of her by a missile from an Israeli drone, told Corporate Watch: “Why should they manufacture these weapons to kill innocent people? They should stop and close those factories.”
The groups behind today’s protest include: Brighton BDS, Brighton Palestine Action, Smash EDO, Stop NATO Cymru, the Anarchist Action Network, East Kent CAAT and Swansea Action for Palestine.
The Electronic Intifada attempted to contact the factory for comment via phone and email. No reply was received before the time of publication, but this article could be updated should a reply be received.
Instro Precision is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Israeli arms firm Azimuth, which also specializes in targeting systems, and is in turn owned by Elbit Security Systems, which acquired it in 2010.
According to a publicly available Elbit financial statement: “Azimuth and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Instro Precision Ltd., a UK based company, specialize in the development of military systems that provide for improved target acquisition, fire coordination, navigation and orientation.”
A message sent via an EU website to Instro’s administrative contact Michael Smith seeking comment has also not been answered. Emails seeking comment have also been sent to William Caplan and Mike Casey, who have both been listed as iDetecT 4ALL contacts at Instro.
As my colleague David Cronin reported for The Electronic Intifada last year, iDetecT 4ALL (or at least elements of it) was likely tested in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Motorola Israel, another participant in the EU-funded system, installed a “virtual fence” around Israeli settlements.
The surveillance system’s participants look to be mostly Israeli companies, subsidiaries of Israeli companies, or companies with ties to Israeli settlements.