The Israeli weapons firm Elbit Systems is effectively being put on trial by the group Palestine Action.
By intentionally damaging property that Elbit owns or rents in Britain and getting arrested as a result, Palestine Action’s campaigners have been able to present courts with evidence against the arms maker.
In a recent hearing, one activist spoke of how she had witnessed Israel’s brutality in the occupied West Bank.
The activist recalled how in Nablus, an Israeli soldier shot a 10-year-old boy eating ice cream. “His blood was running down the village,” the activist said, adding that the image was “something I’ll never get out of my head.”
As Elbit is a key supplier to Israel’s military, there is a high likelihood one of its weapons was used in that incident. In 2018, Elbit bought Israel Military Industries, a maker of assault rifles, machine guns and ammunition that are often targeted or fired at Palestinians.
To symbolize the blood of Palestinians attacked by Israel, activists doused an office building then hosting Elbit in London with red paint in October 2020.
The activist who spoke of the boy being shot in Nablus was among five people charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage following that protest.
All five were acquitted by a London court in November this year. It was the first time that a case involving Palestine Action has gone before a jury.
The court heard claims from Elbit that the protest against the firm’s London office was “almost military” in nature. Activists “overcame guards and police with speed, force and surprise,” the firm alleged, even describing buckets and modified fire extinguishers used by Palestine Action as “improvised weapons.”
The jury in the trial was not persuaded by the firm’s claims.
Some jurors were even seen with tears in their eyes as they listened to evidence about Israel’s brutality.
One activist who took part in the October 2020 protest stated that Elbit’s drones are “marketed for their precision.”
The same activist worked with UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, in Gaza when it came under a major Israeli attack during the summer of 2014.
“Gaza is very densely populated, so the blast radius of these bombs will inevitably kill civilians and children,” the activist said. “That’s a war crime.”
“It’s clear they are used in urban spaces, and it’s not that these things are hit as a side effect,” the activist added. “That summer, 1,500 civilians were killed. It became evident the extent of the bombing – 83 schools and 10 health centers damaged. They know who they are targeting.”
The acquittal of the activists was especially significant given that Adam Hiddleston, the judge overseeing the case, displayed some hostility toward Palestine Action.
At the beginning of the trial, Hiddleston decided that the jury may not consider key points made by the five activists.
Hiddleston contended that the protest was not peaceful and dismissed an attempt by the activists to invoke provisions in the UK Human Rights Act on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
After the activists had given evidence, Hiddleston went even further by rejecting a number of points they had raised.
The activists had argued their protest against Elbit was necessary and that their intention was to prevent crimes being committed.
As a result, the jury had to concentrate on such issues as whether a conspiracy to commit criminal damage had taken place.
The laws in England and Wales on conspiracy are broad. Even if a crime has not been committed, the laws allow for trials to take place over allegations that a crime is being planned.
Despite Hiddleston’s hostility, the five activists managed to turn the court hearing into a de facto trial against Elbit.
Although the British Army is a major client of Elbit, the activists proved that there are people in Britain who reject weapons deals with Israeli companies.
“It was amazing to see the jury stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and a reminder that the British government is completely out of touch with ordinary citizens’ views on the issue,” a campaigner with Palestine Action said.
The acquittal was the latest in a series of victories won by Palestine Action.
The most important of those victories are that Elbit has been pressured to leave its London office – the office targeted in the October 2020 protest – and to sell a factory it owned near Manchester.
But the acquittal is certainly not the end of the matter. A number of court hearings involving Palestine Action are expected in 2023, giving the group more opportunities to present damning evidence of Israel’s war crimes.
Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Twitter: @KitKlarenberg.