Not guilty: Palestine Action acquitted in first trial

Protesters with signs outside a court

Palestine Action’s first trial has ended in acquittal.

Palestine Action

Three activists who defaced an Israeli drone engines factory in the UK were found not guilty of criminal damage on Monday.

The two-day trial took place at Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates Court, near Stoke-on-Trent in central England.

Palestine Action co-founder Huda Ammori told The Electronic Intifada that the victory showed they were on the right track.

“We’re going to continue to take direct action in order to shut down and undermine Israel’s arms trade,” she said.

It was reassuring to have court backing for taking action against Israeli arms makers, she added, and that “to disrupt them and throw red paint over their buildings is something that’s perfectly within our rights to do.”

Government prosecutors had brought charges against what had become known as “the Elbit Three” after they took action in January against the UAV Engines factory, an Elbit subsidiary in Shenstone near Birmingham.

The group chained factory gates to disrupt business as usual and splattered the building with blood-red paint.

Despite all this, the court on Monday acquitted the three of criminal damage.

Their lawyers – including Palestinian barrister Mira Hammad – successfully argued that while their actions constituted damage to the factory, it was not criminal damage, since it was proportionate action to prevent a much bigger crime in Palestine – that of Israeli violence against Palestinians such as the May war against Gaza.

Judge Marcus Waite said that prosecutors had not shown that conviction would be proportionate with the defendants’ freedom to protest, Palestine Action said in a statement.

Since it was founded last year Palestine Action has carried out a sustained campaign against British subsidiaries of Elbit, Israel’s largest private arms maker, including sit-ins, defacement and sabotage.

Despite the fact that Palestine Action have, according to British police, so far caused more than $22 million worth of damage, the “Elbit Three” was the first case to come to trial.

A similar case collapsed in January last year when prosecutors dropped it after Elbit declined to make disclosures about its activities in the UK.

Six other campaigners face uncertainty over their case coming to trial, which has repeatedly been delayed.

Ammori said their trial has now been widened to a 4-5 week hearing scheduled for October 2022.

It’s just one of a dozen similar cases currently pending. Ammori said that the next is scheduled for January, but she doubts it will go ahead as planned, since the UK government’s Crown Prosecution Service has a long record of delaying such cases by a year or more or even and dropping them altogether.

Elbit boasts that it supplies some 85 percent of Israel’s drone fleet and habitually advertises its weapons as “combat proven” – in other words, tested on Palestinians.

The latest Palestine Action factory occupation took place in North Wales last month, when activists with communist group the Welsh Underground Network occupied the rooftop of the Solvay factory in Wrexham.

Activists said the factory produces parts for Elbit drones. Video they posted online shows them damaging the factory.

Palestine Action activist Sarah said in the group’s statement following the not guilty verdict on Monday: “Throwing this paint may not protect Gaza. What protects Gaza is stopping the bombing. Elbit produces weapons, tanks and drones used to commit crimes against humanity and this is what is unlawful.”

UAV Engines did not reply to a request for comment.

Editor’s note: This article initially confused two different Palestine Action protests against the Shenstone factory. In fact the “Elbit Three” case was over a lock-on protest in January, not the rooftop protest in February as previously stated. This has now been corrected in the text above.




The judge's verdict is interesting. Judges are required to make a decision based on the evidence and the law. He could have nuanced his decision in the opposite direction. Defending "freedom to protest" when criminal damage has clearly been caused suggests he was thinking more widely. It looks like there is a desire to damp down the issue. At the moment, most people aren't aware of it. There may be an Establishment fear of people becoming aware and also of the creation of martyrs. Just how far the criminal damage can go before people are imprisoned is intriguing. For the time being, it looks like there is a reluctance to convict, probably to protect Elbit from bad publicity. The irony is that this judgement comes as the government is trying to steer its policing bill through, which will potentially severely restrict the right to protest. Thus, one direction from the politicians, another from the judiciary. The task of keeping weapons to be used on civilians out of the hands of the Israelis is no small one. There is too much collusion and corruption worldwide. But the more Elbit is embarrassed and hampered the better. Every credit to those courageous activists. You few, you happy few, you band of brothers and sisters, Real heroes.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).