Israel’s Elbit sells UK arms factory targeted by activists

A man in handcuffs being removed by fire fighters gives the victory sign

Activists repeatedly targeted the Oldham branch of Elbit Systems with direct action.

Palestine Action

Members of the group Palestine Action celebrated victory on Monday as Israeli arms giant Elbit Systems sold off one of its UK factories.

The group has carried out a sustained direct action campaign at the site since August 2020.

Activists have protested, occupied, blockaded and generally disrupted business as usual, the group explains.

“This news vindicates our long-term strategy,” Palestine Action said on Monday.

“Direct action works - the brave individuals who occupied the factory over the past year can proudly say that drone technologies are no longer in production in Oldham.”

Activists regularly smashed windows at Elbit’s Ferranti facility in Oldham. They have even broken into the premises and caused damage inside. The site has been forced to close for days at a time and Palestine Action claims it has caused “millions in damages.”

The group says 36 of its activists have been arrested at the site since last year. But to date none has been successfully prosecuted.

The Ferranti components factory in Oldham, near Manchester in the north of England, was one of 10 sites Elbit owned in the UK.

Elbit announced on Monday that it had sold the main part of Ferranti to TT Electronics, a British company, for approximately $12 million in cash.

The deadly drone maker made no mention of Palestine Action’s campaign, claiming the sale was a “reorganization” which would help “focus activities on certain areas.”

Elbit UK claimed in a second press release that the sale was merely the company “consolidating its market position.”

A man with a microphone

UK rapper Lowkey is among Palestine Action’s celebrity supporters.

Palestine Action

But Palestine Action co-founder Huda Ammori told The Electronic Intifada on Monday that the sale was “an absolutely tremendous victory” which she said “shows the power of the people when they come together.”

Ammori said that while Israel’s arms trade benefits from being partly based in Britain, this would “also be their biggest downfall because the people here will not stand for it.”

She said her group plans to “continue our direct action campaign, targeting all of Elbit’s sites until they’re forced out of Britain for good.”

Elbit did not reply to emails requesting a response.

Its press releases on Monday said that the remaining parts of Ferranti not sold to TT Electronics would be integrated into Elbit Systems UK, whose registered office is in Bristol, in the southwest of England.

Police watch two activists occupy a rooftop

Activists have frequently occupied Elbit rooftops in the UK.

Palestine Action

As recently as November, the Ferranti factory appeared to be facing an abrupt shutdown and job losses.

Oldham council listed Ferranti’s building on its website as one of “the commercial properties currently available” in the town, touting it as “the perfect location for businesses wanting flexible office space.”

Reached by The Electronic Intifada via phone, a council spokesperson in November denied the business was shutting down, saying that the listing was “an old link” from around six years ago.

Soon after the phone call, the page was deleted from Oldham council’s website.

Palestine Action says that the same month anonymous sources revealed to the group “that mass redundancy notices had been issued to staff working at the factory, and that premises were being cleared in preparation for Elbit leaving the site.”

Last month a jury acquitted three Palestine Action activists of criminal damage at another Elbit site in Shenstone near Birmingham.

The activists successfully argued that while their actions constituted damage to the factory, it was not criminal damage.

Rather, they argued that their actions were proportionate to prevent a much bigger crime – that of Israeli violence against Palestinians such as Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in May.

Elbit is responsible for more than 80 percent of Israel’s drone fleet.

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Jury trials are a great thing, which is why the dreadful Suella Braverman wants to interfere with the Colston Four judgement. The law of criminal damage, rational to a degree as none of us wants bricks through our windows, is principally a defence of the property of the rich. It has a political tinge. Juries are perfectly capable of seeing that direct action in defence of justice is quite different from wilful vandalism. The problem for the law is exactly that: it wants to conflate all forms of damage. The bus stop smashed by drunks is no different from principled damage to a factory producing drones to terrorise people denied the right to defend themselves. In order to get there, it would be necessary to establish something close to totalitarianism. Direct action is the right strategy. It breaks through the very narrow limits on what we can do and say. All our political action is corralled into the parliamentary system dominated by two big parties elected by voters bamboozled by a media owned by the rich and run in their interest. The open debate we are supposed to celebrate excludes almost everything not approved of by editors in the pay of billionaires. We are supervised and controlled to death. Direct action, by its recognition that the permitted methods prevent us making the important points, pushes into territory of genuine free debate and action. Palestine Action has proven itself. More action which the authorities are unsure how to react to, more exposure of the despicable trade in weapons of oppression, more juries of common folk using their common sense to acquit those whose actions are morally justified, more people joining the struggle and Elbit can be driven out of the country. This is news across the world. It makes life more difficult for the racist Israeli State. PA stands for real democracy, the authorities for phoney moralism.

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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.