Groups across the UK are gearing up for a major mobilization aimed at halting production at a factory owned by Elbit Systems, Israel’s biggest military company.
The UAV Engines Limited factory in Shenstone, a 40-minute drive north of Birmingham, makes engines for drones.
The action will take place on 6 July and is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the start of Israel’s massacre of Palestinians in Gaza last year, which began on 7 July.
More than 20 groups are jointly organizing the action, including Campaign Against Arms Trade, the Boycott Israel Network, the National Union of Students Black Students Campaign, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, London Palestine Action and War on Want.
The groups say they are planning to “transform the space around the arms factory, converting it from a site of destruction into a fun, creative and child-friendly environment.”
“Let’s create a space that meets our needs and not the needs of Israeli and multinational corporations that export death for profit,” the call out continues.
At the height of Israel’s attack on Gaza last summer, nine members of the London Palestine Action network occupied the roof of the Shenstone factory, closing it for two days and costing Elbit Systems £186,000 ($285,000).
In 2009, Amnesty International published evidence showing that the factory is used to manufacture engines for the Hermes 450 drone.
Hermes drones have been documented as having been used as part of Israel’s deliberate attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including during Israel’s assault last summer that killed more than 2,200 people.
UK government data show that engines made at the Shenstone factory are exported to Israel. But Elbit Systems claims they are not installed in drones used by Israel and are instead installed in units that it exports to third countries.
Given that the UK arms export control system relies on taking companies like Elbit Systems at their word, that is a claim that is dubious at best and impossible to verify.
Elbit’s drones have been described as “the backbone” of the Israeli military’s fleet of pilotless aircraft.
The company markets its drone technology as “combat proven.” Its share price rose following last summer’s attack on Gaza because investors predicted a boost in sales as Elbit rushed to showcase how its technology helped Israel to carry out war crimes against Palestinians.
Transform the factory
I spoke with Leila White from London Palestine Action about the plans for the day and why her group and others have decided to take action.
“Israel’s attack on Gaza last year exposed once again the awful consequences of the ongoing brutal occupation and colonization of Palestine,” she said. “Elbit’s drones played a key role in Israel’s massacre of more than 2,200 Palestinians.”
“It’s absolutely shameful that the government is allowing Elbit to manufacture drone engines in the UK and export them to Israel, regardless of any promises the company is making,” White added.
“By uniting behind the call to stop arming Israel, we want to transform the factory into a fun, creative and inspiring space.”
“Whether it’s by telling stories or holding workshops, making art or flying kites, playing music or sharing food together, we want to create place for people from across the UK to build support and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and between each other.”
Factory operating illegally?
The nine activists who occupied the roof of the factory last August were arrested and charged with “aggravated trespass.”
They pleaded not guilty on the basis that they believe the factory to be operating illegally by manufacturing components used by Israel in its attacks on Palestinian civilians and other war crimes.
Prosecutors dropped the case against the activists just hours before a deadline for the UK government and Elbit to provide details of the arms trade with Israel was due to expire.
This meant that the UK government and Elbit escaped having to reveal details of the role the factory plays in arming Israel.
The Shenstone factory is also part of the Watchkeeper program under which Elbit Systems is working with other arms companies to manufacture a new drone for the UK military based on the Hermes 450.
The Watchkeeper drone has already been deployed by the UK military as part of its contribution to the US-led occupation of Afghanistan.
Ending UK complicity
One of the aims of the 6 July action is to build pressure for an end to the UK arms trade with Israel.
The UK authorized arms exports to Israel worth £35 million ($55 million) in the period 2011-14. Licenses have been granted for weapon sights, drone engines and components for surface to air missiles, combat planes and military helicopters.
During last year’s Gaza massacre, public pressure including direct action at government offices and marches through London involving tens of thousands of people, led to the government conducting a “review” of arms exports to Israel.
Announcing the outcome of its review during a brief ceasefire, ministers said they would suspend 12 licenses for arms exports to Israel “if major hostilities resumed.”
Yet when Israel resumed its deliberate attacks on Palestinian civilians, the UK government failed to make good on its promise.
The UK was among several European countries that recently declined to give permission to their arms companies to exhibit at a major arms trade fair in Tel Aviv, according to Israeli media reports.
“By maintaining its arms trade with Israel, the UK government is providing political and material support for Israel’s war crimes. We hope that this this action can be a powerful way to continue building pressure for a two-way arms embargo on Israel,” said White.