Palestine Action proves the power of tenacity

Police lead a man away in handcuffs

One of the Bristol Seven is arrested on 15 May 2022. 

Palestine Action

The Bristol Seven, members of the group Palestine Action, recently escaped what could have been much harsher sentencing to effectively walk free with suspended sentences for their part in a protest that targeted an Israeli arms manufacturer investing in England.

The case, brought by Elbit UK, is a powerful example of how direct action can shine a light on continued British complicity in Israeli war crimes in Palestine.

Escaping incarceration was a significant victory that will have consequences reaching far beyond the courtroom.

In 2022, to commemorate Nakba Day on 15 May, nine activists arrived at Elbit System’s factory headquarters in Bristol, daubing walls with paint, smashing windows and then entering the offices to dismantle computers and equipment before barricading themselves inside. All nine were dragged away in handcuffs and charged with criminal damage and burglary.

Their aim was to highlight Elbit’s role in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land, an ethnic cleansing that started with the Nakba in 1948, when hundreds of villages in Palestine were forcibly depopulated by Zionist militias, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were made homeless refugees, scattered around neighboring countries and the world.

Today, the ethnic cleansing has accelerated in Gaza, where Israel has killed or wounded over 100,000 people and flattened large parts of Gaza’s towns, cities and agricultural lands in its latest genocidal military aggression.

Elbit UK’s Bristol arm is at Aztec West business complex, which is owned by Somerset Council, a local authority. Elbit Systems claims to design and manufacture 85 percent of Israel’s military drone fleet and land-based equipment, as well as bullets, bombs, munitions and other high-tech weaponry.

Elbit’s CEO Bazhalel Machlis, who sits on the board of Elbit Systems UK, has boasted of how “crucial” the company is in the Israeli military’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, and how the use of its equipment there has boosted the arms manufacturer’s exports.

The greater violence

Speaking before the sentencing at Bristol Crown Court on 25 March, which The Electronic Intifada attended, Eliza Sarson-Diment, one of the seven activists who eventually stood trial, asked: “What violence is greater than the systematic slaughter of a people?”

“A window can be fixed. A person’s life can never be brought back,” she told The Electronic Intifada. “People’s lives are invaluable, property is not.”

The Crown Court Prosecution quoted a business impact statement from Aztec West that said the action had severely affected the Elbit factory and led to increased security. A reported $137,000 worth of damage was done using “instruments of violence,” the prosecution claimed.

One defense attorney, however, insisted that Elbit was mostly concerned about a different issue: the reputational damage done by press coverage of the action that had caused local disquiet.

The reality of what’s happening at Aztec West was exposed by both national and local media reporting.

And the consequences went beyond reputational damage among conscientious people, local or otherwise.

Following the May 2022 action, Elbit’s credibility among its business peers has suffered. On 9 May that year, Elbit had signed a training contract with the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

But the $200 million contract was canceled in November 2022 over “operational sovereignty standards.”

Having activists repeatedly enter and occupy the headquarters and other Elbit sites clearly undermined the company’s reputation, since it forced Elbit to report numerous breaches of security.

In June 2023, the company lost another contract with the British navy worth a reported $150 million.

The upshot, in other words, of Palestine Action’s campaign, has been to render Elbit a risky investment.

More than protest

But it has taken more than protest to reach this point, said Paul Shortt, one the seven activists on trial. .

“I’m Scottish, I know about colonialism, I know about land grabs, about ethnic cleansing,” Shortt told The Electronic Intifada just ahead of sentencing. “We used to do supposedly ‘democratic’ protests, it just didn’t work. Direct action was the only way.”

Before Palestine Action’s campaign launched four years ago, considerably fewer people had heard of Elbit Systems. The action at Bristol drew local attention to the weapons operation happening on their doorstep.

After the arrest of the group, the campaign for the trial built traction, as supporters learned that the activists were kept imprisoned on remand and then being fitted with electronic tags to enforce curfews.

Since then, attention on Elbit has intensified as locals in Somerset – the region in which Bristol is located – increasingly object to having an Israeli munitions manufacturer to stay.

Last month, a council meeting was interrupted by protesters demanding that the council evict Elbit Systems from the Aztec West business park.

Protesters argued that as long as Elbit is operating in their county, they, as residents, are being made unwillingly complicit in a genocide they vehemently oppose

“You’ve made the people of Somerset participants in the war crimes taking place against the Palestinian people and we will not allow this to happen in our name,” said one at the meeting.

There are already tensions between the UK government and its continued support for Israel’s genocide and the British public, among whom over two-thirds want an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and only 13 percent approve of Israel’s military actions.

These are also evident in Bristol. Only days ago, activists made their message to the council even clearer, spray painting the exterior of the council offices with the slogans “Evict Elbit” and “Blood on your hands.”

It has been two years now since the Elbit action. The activists couldn’t have predicted that by the time they’d go to trial and face sentencing, Palestine would be suffering its second catastrophe.

For over six months, the UK’s two main political parties have scrambled to justify the horrors being inflicted on Gaza. Many people in Britain have been staggered by the influence Israel appears to have over the country’s political class, particularly in England, and the coercive tactics the UK government has considered to stamp out dissent from those who refuse to ignore Israel’s unspeakable violence.

Forging change

Palestine Action is, however, well-versed in Israel’s attempt to quell foreign movements that threaten their operations.

As reported in The Guardian , correspondence disclosed by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) revealed that, at the time of the Bristol Seven action, the Israeli embassy in London began attempting to exert diplomatic influence in the prosecution of Palestine Action members.

This followed a meeting which took place between then foreign minister Dominic Raab and Israel’s Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Benny Gantz, then ministers for strategic affairs and defense. The result was that the Bristol Seven’s legal teams were not able to submit defenses, like the defense of proportionality under Britain’s Human Rights Act, which would have ordinarily been available in such cases.

The prosecutors of the Bristol Seven at one point tried to frame the action as “religiously motivated.” The judge in the case, however, paid little attention to that claim, and rightfully so.

Yet, the attempt to frame the action in this way appeared as a consequence of the ruling Conservative Party’s renewed Islamophobia that has resulted in an attempt to frame pro-Palestine activism as “extremism.”

Amid increased surveillance and legal pressure on British pro-Palestine activists, it is important to pay heed to the Bristol Seven who remained committed to the cause despite the very real prospect of incarceration.

Not one of the seven activists denounced the cause during their trial. Nor did they state any regret for their commitment to ending Britain’s collaboration with Zionist brutality against Palestinians.

“Our freedom is worth nothing as long as the war machine continues to operate,” Stavit Sinai – one of the Bristol Seven – told The Electronic Intifada, before sentencing, and while she was preparing for the worst. “We might go to prison, but worse is the prison we carry inside ourselves by doing nothing while our Palestinian sisters are being slaughtered.”

All activists were spared prison and given suspended sentences instead.

Ultimately, pressure is mounting on Aztec West and Elbit Systems. The Bristol Seven activists have shone a light on the tenacity needed to forge change, a tenacity that places the right to demand arms embargoes into the hands of ordinary people.

lisa minerva luxx is a writer and political activist living between London and Beirut.




So inspired by these young people! I thank them for their courage, and thank you for your reporting- whether it's the devastating news from Gaza, infuriating words of Western politicians, or the inspiring actions of the Resistance and pro-Palestine activists, thank you for bringing all of it to the English-speaking world. Love you, EI!


Well done #EI. You have made me the most informed person, at least, #OnMyBlock. I grieve with Palestine, much to the chagrin of others here in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. In fact, now that I cannot run for #USCongress this year (Missed the filing deadline), I will be out protesting #GenocideInGaza. The US FBI has attempted to abduct and or assassinate me, by my count, at least 12 times since 14 May 2021, when I protested against #NOVAVAX, a Covid-19 "Vaccine" (it is not) for children in Las Vegas. I am known to both North Las Vegas PD and Las Vegas Metro PD. I stumbled upon what I believe to have been an FBI #ChildSexOperation. The FBI surveillance started on 5 June 2021. The FBI's first abduction attempt was in June 2021. Their most recent attempts were 13 January 2024 and 27 January 2024. I cannot #ShowMyFace in my own front yard for fear of assassination. I was compelled to buy CCTV x 2, a less-than-lethal 0.43 caliber #PepperSprayBall gun and other things to hide my identity and to protect myself. I dare not mention CIA ref John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Now I have two years to prepare for a #USCongressional run. #BetterWatchOut. It is going to be, as we say in aviation, a #BumpyRide. C U then. Best, --> #Rick, USAF Veteran, MBA = Aviation.

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