Ten activists were arrested after shutting down a Thales UK factory in the Scottish city of Glasgow on Tuesday to protest the company’s relationship with the Israeli military.
It was the first direct action by the Glasgow Palestine Action Network (GPAN), a newly formed group led by women, queer and trans activists with a history of supporting the Palestinian struggle.
Staged in response to Israel’s summertime military onslaught that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, including more than 500 children, the action sought to protest “the UK economy’s ever growing military industrial cooperation with governments that flout international law,” GPAN explained in a press release.
Thales UK— a subsidiary of the French company, Thales, which is ranked by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute as the eleventh largest arms producer in the world — signed a $1.6 billion contract with Israel’s largest military technology firm Elbit Systems in 2011 to develop a new drone fleet for the UK military called Watchkeeper.
Watchkeeper is based on Elbit’s Hermes 450 model, one of Israel’s most widely deployed attack drones.
Outfitted to carry two medium range missiles, the Hermes 450 was used by the Israeli army during its Winter 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza to deliberately target Palestinian civilians, according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch.
This arrangement, which treats Palestine as Israel’s proprietary weapons laboratory, has paved the way for Israel to become the world’s number one exporter of drones.
Getting in the way
On Tuesday morning, four GPAN activists climbed to the roof of the Thales UK facility in Glasgow, where they unfurled a massive Palestinian flag as well as banners with pro-Palestine messages and refused to leave.
“Drones are a key part of Israel’s military arsenal,” explained Fifi O-Hara, who participated in the roof occupation. “By allowing this factory to export drone components and other arms to Israel, the UK government is providing direct support and approval to Israel’s massacres.”
While the roof occupiers dropped their banners, activists on the ground locked themselves together using arm tubes to form human chains outside the building’s two main entrances, forcing the company to suspend operations for the day.
Meanwhile, supporters gathered outside the building in response to GPAN’s call for a demonstration in solidarity with Palestine.
Eventually the activists were forcibly removed by police and arrested.
Those occupying the roof came prepared to stay for days but were forced down after police deployed a mountain rescue crew to confiscate their food and water.
Lorna Macbain, who participated in blockading the entrances, told The Electronic Intifada just after being released on bail on Wednesday evening, that it took police three and a half hours to cut the demonstrators out of the arm tubes.
All ten activists were charged with “breach of the peace” and their court date is scheduled for February, added Macbain. Though the group was aiming for a more serious charge in hopes of igniting a political trial, they are satisfied with the outcome and encouraged by the positive response from the community.
Just the Beginning
“We had so much support from the people of Glasgow,” said Macbain. “There were tons of people outside the court. There were people on the street.” The group was especially encouraged by the support they received from Palestinians on Twitter and Facebook.
“We wanted to draw attention to the fact that drones are considered peaceful surveillance tools. But what we’re seeing in Gaza and across the world, in places like Yemen, is drones are armed and being used for lethal force,” said Macbain.
Macbain added that this action is just the beginning of GPAN’s promise to honor the Palestinian call to intensify boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel in the aftermath of the Gaza slaughter.
“We will continue to put pressure and raise awareness so that the workers are aware of what they’re making and the people are aware of what they’re supporting by not resisting their government,” said Macbain.
All images courtesy of Glasgow Palestine Action Network.
This post has been changed slightly since publication to clarify the fact that Thales UK is part of the French company Thales.