Why we’re laying siege to an Israeli weapons plant

Protesters wear masks depicting Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Britain’s Rishi Sunak as the two prime ministers met recently in London. 

Vuk Valcic ZUMA Press

The British government has rolled out the red carpet for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again in recent weeks.

His visit was to initiate a new partnership deal – one which promises $25 million worth of funding to strengthen “tech industry” ties between the two countries.

While Netanyahu was wined and dined by British politicians, Palestinians were mourning yet another death. Almost 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis this year alone.

While the struggle for liberation has never wavered in the 75 years of Israeli occupation – all of historic Palestine is under Israeli occupation – the cost for the Palestinian people has been tragically high.

The sight of an Israeli war criminal like Netanyahu being welcomed with open arms on British soil is enough to make any decent citizen recoil in disgust. But it isn’t the first such “welcoming,” as this relationship goes back more than a century.

The signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 was a fateful moment in Britain’s sullied history.

This letter, containing just 67 words, issued by our then own foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour, casually signed away Palestine to build the all-new Jewish homeland – dismissing a most crucial issue. The land was already inhabited by a thriving indigenous population, the Palestinians.

In order to make this “homeland” a reality, British soldiers laid the ground red: butchered, terrorized, chased out, arrested and even committed sexual violence against the Palestinian people. Soldiers demolished parts of Palestinian towns and suppressed local uprisings.

The British paved the way for the Nakba – the catastrophe, which saw Zionist militias, armed and trained by the British army, ethnically cleanse up to 800,000 Palestinians.

Communities were massacred. Over 500 civilian towns and villages were brutally wiped off the map.

Breaking the cycle

British complicity never ended. It simply morphed into a different facet of colonialism, upheld through diplomatic, industrial, military and financial interests.

Britain sustains, legitimizes and finances the oppression of the Palestinians, while those who oppose it, endlessly lobby, condemn and protest. In order to break the cycle, we must first break this status quo.

It’s the reason that Palestine Action was created. We had to shove a spanner in the works and stop the perpetual cogs of colonization turning.

The recent partnership deal signed between Israel and Britain hit out at those protesting the oppression of Palestine in several ways. An agreement was struck to pretend that apartheid doesn’t exist and to work together to find ways to dominate the Palestinian people.

Inside the deal was a new state-of-the-art dual “tech” facility in Gloucestershire, an area in southwest England.

However, what was omitted from the press release, and has always had a mention in the past, is the issue of Israel’s largest private arms firm Elbit Systems. That is hardly surprising, considering the company is Palestine Action’s key target, and its image has become toxic.

The presence of Elbit on our shores came from the historic and political closeness of the two countries. Manufacturing weapons in Britain made the destruction of Palestine more lucrative, and so factories quickly popped up all over our towns and cities.

By 2020, the company was operating in Oldham, Tamworth, Shenstone, Leicester and Kent, with offices in Bristol and London, and working alongside the British military in three separate bases.

Since Palestine Action’s inception, over 280 activists have taken part in direct action, involving blockading, climbing on Elbit’s roofs, breaking inside its buildings and destroying its weapons. This sustained direct action has forced Elbit to spend its profits like water on better fencing, new brickwork, replacement windows, beefier security, brighter lighting and evermore surveillance.

Hostile environment

Its ability to function and maintain productivity under the strain of Palestine Action’s regular disruption was badly hit. The company was forced to lose its factory in Oldham (near Manchester), London offices and approximately $350 million in contracts with the Ministry of Defence.

The loss of contracts didn’t come from a sudden shift in the British government’s moral compass. Elbit is less welcome than ever before because courageous people in this country are willing to sacrifice their liberty to disrupt, shame and destroy the company.

In a comical turn of events, Elbit has tried switching strategies. It is now attempting to deny that it is an Israeli weapons company.

The firm has gone to great lengths to distance itself from itself in a bid to save itself. All this would be laughable if the company wasn’t so lethal.

Similar firms looking at the resistance that Elbit has faced, still faces, and will continue to face, and its cringingly-embarrassing denial of any connection to Israel – which it previously bragged about – cannot pretend that nothing has happened. They will surely realize that working with Israel is not a “good” or even “sensible” business decision to make.

Palestine Action is helping to make Britain a hostile environment for all companies that profit from the oppression of the Palestinian people or of anyone else for that matter.

What started with just a handful of people taking on the Israeli arms industry, has become a network of hundreds and soon thousands.

The desire to join the fight and finally rid Britain of Elbit Systems starts on 1 May.

Palestine Action will be laying siege to an Israeli weapons factory in the English city of Leicester. Named UAV Tactical Systems, the factory is owned by Elbit and the French company Thales.

The site manufactures and assembles the Watchkeeper drone – a repackaged version of Elbit’s old Hermes 450, used extensively in Israel’s lethal assaults on Gaza. Marketed as “battle tested” and “combat proven,” the drone has been developed through experiments on the Palestinian people.

Leicester’s factory openly boasts about how its drones have achieved 100,000 flight hours in Afghanistan and Iraq, with assistance from the US/UK imperial project which led to the destruction of both countries. Elsewhere, the same aircraft is used by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to militarize the English Channel and monitor migrants seeking refuge in the UK.

During the May 2021 Unity Intifada in Palestine, which saw resistance groups ally in opposition to Israel’s assault on Gaza and its evictions in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, four Palestine Action volunteers scaled the roof of UAV Tactical Systems.

The fire service refused to remove the protesters from the roof when the police requested them to do so, and the community of Leicester came out in large numbers to block the police vehicles. In all, between the activists on the roof, the fire service, and the community, the factory was shut down and inoperable for six days.

This time we won’t leave until Elbit does.

Huda Ammori is a co-founder of Palestine Action.