Second court victory for Palestine Action

Activists with Palestinian flags

Activists at Birmingham Magistrates Court on Thursday.

Palestine Action

Activists celebrated another victory against Israeli drone giant Elbit on Thursday, as a British court dropped all charges.

Birmingham Magistrates Court ordered that three activists go free, despite charges of criminal damage, resisting arrest and a charge related to suspected aggravated trespass.

The Palestine Action campaigners had targeted an Elbit landlord, Vine Property Management in Birmingham, in the English Midlands.

The case is the second against Palestine Action to come to trial. Last month, the group’s first trial also ended in full acquittal with protesters found not guilty of criminal damage.

The activists in the first trial successfully argued that damage they caused to Elbit’s Shenstone factory near Birmingham was proportionate action to halt the factory’s involvement in Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.

The group had chained themselves to the gates of Elbit subsidiary UAV Engines in Shenstone and splattered the building with blood-red paint in January last year.

Two activists on a rooftop with a sign

Palestine Action shut down Elbit landlord Vine in July 2021.

Palestine Action

The three activists cleared in the second trial on Thursday had taken action to shut down Vine Property in July last year, “as part of a wider campaign targeting the suppliers, partners and landlords of Elbit” the group said in a statement.

Vine is the landlord of the Shenstone factory.

“Activists chained the gates shut, occupied the roof and sprayed the site with red paint to signify its complicity in the murder of the Palestinian people,” they recalled.

They dropped a large sign calling on the landlord to “Evict Elbit.”

Palestine Action said the legal victory was “hugely significant” and was more proof that even the British courts system appears to “understand the necessity, and proportionality, of taking action to undermine British complicity in Israeli war crimes.”

Activists said on Thursday that the Crown Prosecution Service had failed to offer any evidence, leading to the charges being dropped before their political defence of proportionate action against Israeli war crimes could be put forward in court again.

Palestine Action said in its statement that there had been “serious failings by the police” and an “abuse of process” by prosecutors.

Their solicitor Lydia Dagostino told The Electronic Intifada that there had been “major failings in disclosure” by prosecutors, leading to activists walking free.

The Crown Prosecution Service did not respond to requests for comment.

The group’s latest legal victory follows hot on the heels of its first Elbit factory shutdown last week.

On 10 January, Elbit announced that it had sold off its Ferranti factory in Oldham, in the north of England.

Activist Max Geller told the most recent episode of The Electronic Intifada Podcast that, “if the UK is not going to prosecute Palestine Action, Elbit is going to be left with very little options besides quitting the country.”

Editor’s note: This story initially stated that the three that been charged with aggravated trespass. This has now been corrected to “a charge related to suspected aggravated trespass.”

One of their lawyers clarified to The Electronic Intifada after publication that the charge was actually section 69 of the Criminal Justice Act, which specifies an offense of disobeying police orders to leave the scene where they reasonably suspect aggravated trespass. Aggravated trespass itself is a separate offense with which they were not charged.

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Congratulations to the courageous members of Palestine Action. They've shown us that it's possible to drive out a ghoulish corporation like Elbit through a well-planned strategy of direct physical opposition.

On a related note, a movement to restrict or even eliminate the ancient custom of trial by jury is underway in Britain. Alex Salmond was acquitted on all charges by a jury, against the clear wishes of the Scottish government and media. Had he been tried by a hand-picked judge, his fate would likely have been different. Julian Assange and Craig Murray have both been manhandled into prison at the sole discretion of establishment judges. In the U.S. , Steven Donziger is imprisoned under circumstances that could never pertain had he faced a jury of his peers in open court. While Palestine Action's defense was presented to a single presiding judge, the accused were fortunate to be haled before a jurist willing to listen to the arguments. Recent history is rife with examples of collusion and furtive loyalties from the bench. Whenever Palestine advocates are granted trial by jury, the chances of acquittal are enhanced. We've seen this in a number of countries. Citizen juries are less wedded to systems of power.

The right to trial by jury must be extended, not restricted. With all of its flaws, it remains an indispensable tool for the democratic administration of justice.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

At The Electronic Intifada he is associate editor and co-host of our podcast.