Targeting Britain’s war industry

“Warfighters around the world rely on Brimar products every day,” a small company from Manchester in northwest England boasts on its publicity material. Brimar makes screens and viewfinders which allow helicopter pilots and tank gunners to carry out their bloody jobs in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. But a new local campaign is looking to turn Brimar’s boast on its head, and it’s just one of a number of British campaigns confronting the companies which arm the Israeli military.

“We know that Brimar supplies display components for the Apache attack helicopters which the Israeli military uses,” said Anna Freeman of the Target Brimar campaign, “because in 2006 they admitted as much themselves.”

The company has been under pressure from British activists since it was revealed that its helmet-mounted display systems were used by the Israeli military. During Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, when the state was accused of a number of human rights abuses including the bombing of an ambulance, Brimar’s director David Eldridge admitted to that the company’s systems are used for the American-made, Israeli-operated Apache helicopters.

“If British companies are prevented from supplying the Boeing Apaches because they’ll get sent onwards to Israel, is that going to stop them from being sent? Of course not, they’ll just move on to other suppliers and it would make no difference beyond hurting British business,” Eldridge told the Guardian newspaper at the time.

The Israeli military has also used Apaches for attacks in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. This includes extra-judicial “targeted assassinations,” like those of Tanzim leader Hussain Abayat near Bethlehem in 2000 and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the wheelchair-bound spiritual leader of Hamas, in Gaza in March 2004.

Moreover, Amnesty International published a report in July detailing the human rights abuses committed in Gaza during Israel’s recent winter invasion. This included the killing of three paramedics and the 12-year-old boy who was showing them where to find two wounded men. The four were killed by an Israeli-fired missile marked AGM-114 — the designation for a US-made Hellfire missile. The bodies of those killed could not be recovered for two days, as those trying to collect them came under further fire from Israeli troops.

According to Target Brimar’s Anna Freeman, Hellfire missiles can be launched from a range of vehicles of which two, the Apache and Blackhawk helicopters, are used by the Israeli military. Freeman explained, “There is a significant possibility that the missile used in this incident was fired by a Brimar-equipped Apache.”

A Times of London journalist described the effect of the Hellfire missiles, which create a vacuum and blast wave affect that “sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies.”

Local action

The Target Brimar campaign, which is calling for a “launch demonstration” on 17 October, says it’s looking to other successful anti-military campaigns in the UK for inspiration.

Since 2004, regular protests have taken place outside the EDO factory in Brighton where campaigners claim the company manufactures bomb release clips for American F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft. EDO also makes components for Paveway “precision guided bombs” and Hellfire missiles. Demonstrations at EDO have included vigils, blockades and “noise demos.” Although the campaign’s organizers have been subjected to significant police harassment and attempts by the company to use legal injunctions against them — both documented in the 2008 film On the Verge — they have maintained their presence.

In the last five years, the Smash EDO campaign has succeeded in generating major media coverage of the company’s business concerns. It has successfully depressed the company’s value to the point where its former parent company sold it to ITT, a US corporation with major defense interests.

“We’re hoping that Brimar will one day see the kind of regular vigils and protests which EDO has experienced over the years,” said Anna Freeman. Target Brimar is also allying its 17 October demonstration with a call for a week of action in support of the “EDO Decommissioners.” The Decommissioners are a group of six activists currently awaiting trial for breaking into the EDO factory during Israel’s invasion of Gaza, throwing computer equipment out of windows and causing #300,000 worth of damage (approximately $491,250).

Since their arrest in Brighton, several of the Decommissioners have also been arrested for carrying out an occupation of the rooftop of Raytheon’s factory in Bristol. According to a press release put out by the campaigners in June 2009, Raytheon electrical equipment is used on Israel’s wall in the West Bank and “Fragments of Raytheon weapons have been found in Lebanon and more recently a school in the Gaza Strip.”

Not just Israel

Campaigners against military manufacture at the Brimar factory in Manchester and Raytheon in Bristol point out that it’s not just war crimes in Palestine that they’re concerned about.

Brochures produced by the US Marine Corps detail a project conducted in conjunction with Brimar to develop sight equipment for tank gunners with the Marine Second Tank Battalion. This equipment was deployed with the Marines in Iraq by early 2005. In addition, the EDO Decommissioners pointed out that Raytheon’s Paveway guided bomb system was the most widely deployed precision-guidance equipment used during the invasion of Iraq.

Brimar also has sales offices in Pakistan and Turkey. In 2007, global security research organization Saferworld expressed concern over “the [British] Government’s continued authorization of the export of military equipment to countries renowned for their violation of human rights … such as Turkey and Pakistan.”

The British Army’s Warrior fighting vehicles, which are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, also use Brimar equipment. Similarly, Apache helicopters deployed by the British Royal Air Force in Afghanistan are also likely to be Brimar-equipped.

Destroying jobs in a recession?

Anti-corporate campaigns are often controversial, especially during recessions when every job loss has an impact. But, say the campaigners at Target Brimar, they’re not looking to close the company down. Although the company currently states that 80 percent of its turnover comes from military sales, it still develops specialist equipment for the media and film industries. In addition, much of the firm’s history and reputation as a British company has been as a supplier of TV and radio equipment, not weapons.

Although the weapons export industry employed approximately 65,000 individuals in the UK in 2004, according to government records, the industry also received #890 million in public funding. This amounts to around #13,000 per job, (roughly $23,500).

Research by the London-based Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) claims that the massive subsidies given to arms export industries by the UK government could be better spent in other ways. A 2008 CAAT report stated that “the diversion of resources from other forms of manufacturing activity that, if provided with similar long-term government investment, could actually have generated greater employment and direct benefits to the civil economy through improved technologies and industrial processes.” In particular, CAAT and other campaigners believe that the technically skilled work being done by workers at companies like Brimar might be better directed at developing energy-efficient technologies or new means of generating energy.

“Public money is being poured into Brimar,” says Target Brimar’s Anna Freeman, “both in money being used to stop banks like the HBOS [Group], which it owes money to, going under, and in the subsidies which prop up the arms industry in the UK.” She added, “Our wishes as taxpayers aren’t taken into account by the government, so we believe we have to take action as responsible citizens to expose the human rights abuses being fueled from our doorsteps.”

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer from Manchester, UK. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06. She now writes full-time on a range of issues, including Palestine. She has also been involved in helping the Target Brimar campaign’s publicity effort.