UK admits activists “forced” Elbit to sell factory

A woman smashes windows of an office building daubed with red paint

Campaigners have been remanded in prison after smashing an Israeli arms firm’s offices.

Guy Smallman

A British government prosecutor admitted in court this week that Palestine Action campaigners “forced the closure” of a factory owned by an Israeli weapons firm earlier this year.

The admission flies in the face of claims made at the time by Elbit Systems, then the factory’s owner. It comes as the UK ratchets up its repression of Palestine Action by imprisoning nine activists on remand this week.

Elbit claimed that the January sale of the Ferranti drone components factory in Oldham, near Manchester in the north of England, was just a sign of the firm “consolidating its market position.”

The deadly drone maker also claimed to the local press that the sale was “part of the continued implementation of our UK growth strategy.”

Elbit did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday.

Palestine Action led a sustained direct action campaign at the site between August 2020 and the Elbit sale in January 2022. Elbit has nine remaining sites across the UK which the group regularly targets.

The admission came on Tuesday from Paul Kelly, a lawyer working for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), a UK government entity.

Kelly was speaking in court during a case relating to Palestine Action’s efforts to force Elbit out of the UK.

He asked a judge hearing the case to deny bail to nine activists who smashed up Elbit’s regional headquarters in the English city of Bristol on Sunday, Palestine Action said in a statement.

“Highly unusual”

The lawyer’s request was initially declined by the judge, with six of the arrested activists told they were being released on bail. But the CPS appealed, and all nine were remanded in custody.

As of the publication of this article on Thursday evening UK time, six of the nine were finally granted bail. The other three remain on remand. It is expected that the six will be released tonight and this article will be updated when we know more.

According to Palestine Action, the CPS intervention was “highly unusual,” as the group’s activists have been habitually released on bail after taking action against the arms firm.

To date, few of the many cases police have prepared against Palestine Action have come to court. Most that were listed for full court cases have been dropped before trial.

The CPS in January dropped a case due to be heard in East London, conceding that there had been no “realistic prospect of conviction.”

In December last year, the first Palestine Action case to actually come to trial ended in full acquittal. Three Palestine Action campaigners were found not guilty of criminal damage after taking action to disrupt an Elbit subsidiary in Shenstone, near Birmingham.

Lawyers representing the three campaigners argued they had used proportionate action to prevent a much bigger crime in Palestine – that of Israeli violence against Palestinians such as the May 2021 war against Gaza.

A campaigner who attended the Bristol magistrate’s court bail hearing on Tuesday told The Electronic Intifada that Paul Kelly, the CPS lawyer, had “explicitly said Palestine Action has already forced the closure of one factory in Oldham.”

This was part of Kelly’s argument that the nine should be denied bail.

Palestine Action said in its statement: “The CPS is using the success of Palestine Action as a reason to imprison activists.”

The appeal against bail and increased private security around the Elbit sites are part of “coordinated attempts to clamp down on activists and curtail the growing success of the movement,” the group said.

The group of nine imprisoned on remand includes Israeli dissidents Ronnie Barkan and Stavit Sinai.

Barkan said in a video statement that they had taken action to protest “the denial of every element of equality and rights for those indigenous people who became a minority in their own land.”

The activists chose Sunday 15 May as it was Nakba Day, which marks the expulsion of 800,000 Palestinians by Zionist militias in 1948.


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).