Seven Palestine solidarity protesters from London and Brighton were arrested on 11th November last year after they took part in a non-violent blockade outside the UK base of an Israeli agricultural export company Agrexco (UK) Ltd, Swallowfield Way, Hayes, Middlesex.
Agrexco is Israel’s largest importer of agricultural produce into the European Union, and it is 50% Israeli state owned. It imports produce from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The protesters will argue as a defence that they were acting to prevent crimes against International law that are also illegal in the UK under the International Criminal Court Act.
The protestors will face trial at Uxbridge Magistrates Court, between the 7th- 8th September 2005. They are each charged with two offences under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Section 68: (Aggravated Trespass) and Section 69: (Failure To Leave Land.)
In a well planned operation, using wire fences and bicycle D-Locks they succeeded in blockading the distribution centre, blocking all motor vehicle traffic in and out of the building. Pedestrians and workers were still able to enter and leave the factory without obstruction. No-one was put in any personal danger by the presence of the blockade.
Carmel-Agrexco is 50% owned by the state of Israel, and imports produce from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. At the same time Israeli forces have blocked Palestinian exports from the occupied territories preventing them from taking full advantage of a EU-PA trade deal. Israeli sponsored settlements have appropriated land and water resources my military order from Palestinian farmers in a deliberate policy of militarily back colonisation.
The defendants will argue that since the settlements are illegal under international law, and that Israel continues to expand these settlements, in flagrant disregard of the same international law, that if the Agrexco blockade did cause any disruption to its business, it was not against a lawful business (as required by the charge of aggravated trespass), but rather a business involved in aiding and abetting crimes against international law. The defendant’s legal argument is that the activities of Agrexco are unlawful in that the company trades with illegal colonial settlements established in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as these are contrary to, Section 52 of the International Criminal Courts (ICC) Act 2001. and the Geneva Conventions Act (GC)1957.* (See note below)
Before taking part in this action many of the defendants had witnessed first hand the suffering of Palestinian communities under the brutal Israeli occupation, having served as volunteers with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), documenting human rights abuses by the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza, and taking part in non-violent civil resistance to the occupation organized by Palestinian civilian committees.
An expert witness for the defense will be Professor George Joffe, who is a visiting professor in Geography at King’s College London, and lecturer at the Centre for International Studies at Cambridge University. Prof. Joffe is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on the Middle East politics in the UK, being widely published in academic journals, as well as quoted in mainstream print, television and radio journalism.
The professor was one of a handful of experts invited by PM Tony Blair to give advice about the effects of a possible Iraq war before it took place. Joffe has been outspoken in his criticism of the decision to go to war, and Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank. He says in a report commissioned for the Uxbridge case;
“There is no doubt that, under international law, the complex of settlements, interlinking road systems and the Separation Wall are considered to be illegal. Many aspects of them are illegal under Israeli domestic law as well.”
Other witnesses will include Palestinians affected by the occupation who will be present in court to give first hand testimony about the effect of Agrexco’s business in the occupied Jordon Valley.
The defendants are hoping the trial will bring greater awareness to a wider campaign to boycott Israeli goods, that seeks by economic means to pressure Israel into reversing a policy of systematic racism and colonialism that has been ongoing for five decades.
There will be a Palestinian breakfast at 9:am on the first day of the trial outside the court.
* The ICC Act makes it a criminal offence for a person to engage in conduct ancillary to an offence under section 51. Offences under section 51 are grouped under the headings of: genocide, crime against humanity or war crime and include; persecution against any identifiable group on ethnic or religious grounds; the crime of apartheid; extensive destruction and appropriation of property; and unlawful transfer of protected persons. The illegal settlements in the West Bank have been well documented as engaged in all these offences. Agrexco factories and packing houses are present in many of these illegal settlements.
Section 1 of the GC Act 1957, makes it a criminal offence for a person to commit, or aid, abet or procure, a grave breach of any of the Geneva Conventions. Grave breaches include: the unlawful transfer of protected persons; and extensive destruction and appropriation of property. The International Court of Justice has held in an advisory opinion that the annexation or apartheid wall in the West Bank breaches the Fourth Geneva Convention. The wall has deliberately been designed to annex large areas of the West Bank where settlements are sited. Agrexco knowingly imports products from these illegal settlements.