Activists force shutdown of Israeli weapons factory in UK

Four red-suited people hold a banner reading "Palestine Action"

Activists from Palestine Action have occupied the roof of an Israeli-French drone factory in Leicester and shut down production there since 19 May. 

Guy Smallman

British police are struggling to end a protest at an Israeli weapons factory in Leicester, England, where activists have holed up on the roof for several days.

Members of Palestine Action climbed up on the roof of a drone manufacturing facility belonging to UAV Tactical Systems, a subsidiary of Israeli weapons manufacturers Elbit Systems and French firm Thales UK, on 19 May.

Elbit also provides surveillance systems, equipment to Israeli police and electronic detection technology for the illegal wall in the West Bank.

Elbit has 10 offices and factories in the UK.

Palestine Action members also “barricaded gates, destroyed property and vandalised the premises to prevent any more British-made drones being sent to commit atrocities in Gaza”, according to a statement from Palestine Action.

The occupation of Elbit’s factory entered its sixth day on 24 May, in what has become the longest action they have ever undertaken, Palestine Action said.

Elbit’s factory shut down production as a result of the occupation of their building, Palestine Action says. The direct action group also notes that its members continue to protest against other Elbit facilities in the UK as well as against LaSalle, which rents property to the company.

Police have been working with private security personnel to end the direct action as “hundreds” of people came out in support of the occupation of Elbit’s Leicester facility on 20 May.

On that Thursday evening, two supporterers were reportedly arrested for “aiding and abetting aggravated trespass” after they gave food and water to Palestine Action members on the roof.

However, police released the two supporters the following day “with no further action.”

A third supporter from Leicester was detained on Monday after he reportedly attempted to throw food and water to the Palestine Action members on the roof.

Two activists have since stepped down from the roof of the factory so that the remaining two activists “may better ration supplies and continue the occupation for as long as is humanly possible,” the group said.

The actions come amid the latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza during which Israel killed at least 230 Palestinians, including 62 children, injured thousands and destroyed homes, hospitals and offices belonging to local and international media organizations.

Solidarity expressed

Local firefighters were also called to the scene by the authorities on 20 May. Leicester Fire Brigades Union (FBU) Chair Graham Vaux issued a statement in solidarity with the activists.

According to Vaux’s statement, FBU members made clear to senior management that “as firefighters, we are, and remain, a proud humanitarian service and our role does not involve law enforcement.”

Vaux added that having assessed the wellbeing of the Palestine Action members on the roof FBU members withdrew from the area.

“The Fire Brigades Union stand in support of Palestinian solidarity and the right to protest,” the statement concluded.

Trade union solidarity for the Palestinian people was also seen in South Africa and Italy with dockworkers refusing to participate in offloading or loading ships originating from or destined to the state of Israel.

Shut Elbit down regardless

Police negotiators attempted to coax the activists from the roof of the Leicester-based weapons plant, Palestine Action said, citing the ceasefire agreed between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.

But the Palestine Action members refused to leave.

A spokesperson for Palestine Action said that any ceasefire, assuming it is even implemented, “will mean only a return to the status quo”.

“Direct action will continue until we have completely shut Elbit down, and until Palestinians are no longer denied their basic human rights.”

Elbit, which sells drones and weapons systems to over 30 countries, has been the target of direct actions and protests since 2014, although there has been a marked increase in protests directed at the firm since Palestine Action was founded in 2020.

Palestine Action members currently face multiple trials resulting from their activities, under charges including conspiracy to commit criminal damage.

The Electronic Intifada has reported that on at least two occasions interviewing detectives and police have allegedly told Palestine Action members that their actions were “akin to terrorism.”

Mohamed Elmaazi is a UK-based journalist and contributor to numerous outlets including Jacobin, The Canary and The Dissenter.