Eight activists go on trial for disrupting Israel’s weapons trade

Some members of the activists, who will go on trial in London next week. 

Mohamed Elmaazi

The trial of eight activists who have sought to disrupt Israel’s arms business within the UK will start next Monday (13 November) in London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Known as the Elbit Eight – after the Israeli weapons firm they have targeted – the defendants are members of the group Palestine Action.

The activists are charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit burglary, two counts of conspiracy to destroy or damage property, one count of assault by beating and one count of conspiracy to blackmail.

The charges relate to around 15 different protests undertaken by eight Palestine Action members, including the groups’ co-founders Huda Ammori and Richard Barnard, against the UK-based facilities of Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems.

All of the activities took place within the first eight months of Palestine Action being formed in June 2020.

Although they are being prosecuted collectively, not all the defendants face the same charges.

Delayed for over a year, the trial of the Elbit Eight is expected to last six weeks. Significantly, it will be a trial by jury. Most cases against members of Palestine Action have been decided by judges in magistrates’ courts, which operate without juries.

Facilitating genocide

The trial takes place at a time when Israel is waging a genocidal war against Gaza – using weapons from Elbit and several other firms.

“As Britain supports Israel’s massacre of my people, they put me and others on trial for taking action to disrupt the production of the weapons used to murder them,” Huda Ammori from Palestine Action said.

“However, this trial is bigger than myself and my co-defendants,” she added. “It’s an extension of the fight against the Israeli weapons trade and all those who facilitate the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Palestine Action members have engaged in hundreds of different actions, since their first protest in August 2020, according to Ammori.

Palestine Action’s first protest, which is included in the indictment, involved activists entering Elbit’s main office in central London, spilling blood red paint and spraypainting slogans.

Most of the charges in the indictment concern actions which involved the alleged pouring of red paint on the outside or inside of premises belonging to or rented by Elbit, and spraypainting words such as “war criminals” and “shut Elbit down.” At least one charge relates to Palestine Action’s first ever roof occupation of a factory belonging to Elbit subsidiary UAV Engines in Shenstone, near the English city of Birmingham, during September 2020.

“We remain steadfast in our solidarity with Palestine, and will fight to prove Elbit is the guilty party,” said Ammori.

Elbit is Israel’s largest privately-owned weapons manufacturer. It is a major supplier of drones and other weapons to Israel’s military.

Palestine Action’s protests are continuing. Over the past few weeks the group has targeted several buildings used by Elbit and another arms company, as well as the headquarters of the BBC – which has consistently displayed a pro-Israel bias in its reporting – and the UK Foreign Office.

“Necessary and right”

In October, a jury acquitted Palestine Action activist Sohail Sultan of charges of criminal damage related to his occupation of a factory belonging to the Arconic corporation. The court heard how Arconic provided materials for fighter jets used by the Israeli military and also produced the cladding which went up in flames in London’s infamous Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 that killed 72 residents.

All but one of the initial prosecutions of Palestine Action members either collapsed or resulted in acquittals. That was before the summer of 2022 when the UK Court of Appeals ruled that activists accused of causing “more than minor” damage cannot rely on human rights protections as a defense of their actions.

Since that ruling, around 50 percent of trials involving Palestine Action have resulted in acquittals. The other 50 percent of trials have resulted in convictions.

“Facing prison pales into insignificance when compared to the genocide Israel is committing against the Palestinian people using Elbit’s weaponry,” said Palestine Action’s Richard Barnard. “Whatever the state says, we know we did what was necessary and right. Now, we must fight to prove that in the courts, and bring the Palestinian struggle to the forefront.”

Three of the defendants, including Huda Ammori and Richard Barnard, also face the most serious charge of “conspiracy to blackmail.” That charge flowed from a statement made by Barnard in 2021.

Barnard declared that he would go on hunger strike if the real estate firm JLL did not respond within 28 days to a demand that it evict Elbit from offices being rented in London.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service is now alleging, however, that the “conspiracy to blackmail” charge concerns letters sent to JLL in which Palestine Action members promised to continue disruptive protests until the company evicted Elbit.

Charging protesters with conspiracy to blackmail is unusual. The last known case was more than a decade ago.

Barnard also denies the “assault by beating” charge.

The charge has been brought following an incident involving a security guard who attacked Huda Ammori. Barnard is insisting that he only acted in Ammori’s defense

A separate trial of six other Palestine Action members began this week.

The Shenstone Six – as the activists have been dubbed – are being charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage and two burglary charges relating to their occupation of the Elbit-owned UAV Engines factory last year.

The protest involved the dismantling of engines such as those intended for the Hermes 450 armed drone, which has been tested during Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Mohamed Elmaazi is a UK-based journalist, who contributes to numerous outlets including Jacobin, The Dissenter and Consortium News.