As Palestine Action activists face a wave of trials for involvement in protests against weapons manufacturers, Xī Mingyue argues for the importance of giving as much solidarity as possible to these protesters.
Palestine has attracted some of the largest peaceful marches in London’s recent history. On 22 May 2021, 200,000 people marched in central London to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza.
It is no secret that the left loves marches. But marches alone do not change the British state’s support for Israel. At the end of the day, the protesters will have let off some steam, and the bombs will continue to fall.
So what if, instead of asking nicely in the face of a state with the utmost contempt for Palestinian life, we took things into our own hands and stopped Britain’s shipment of weapons to Israel, with or without permission? What if we went to the British factories which manufacture weapons for Israel and we said: not on our doorstep!
That is exactly what Palestine Action is doing to Elbit Systems.
Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest privately-owned arms company, providing the Israeli military with 85% of its killer drones, and advertising its weapons as “battle-tested” on Palestinians. It has eight sites across Britain, including four arms factories; these numbers are down from 2020, when Elbit had ten sites across Britain.
Palestine Action targets Elbit by occupying its sites so that they are shut down for a day or several days, and by doing serious damage to the buildings and weapons so that they cannot be operational for even longer than that. Palestine Action carry out repeated, targeted and frequent actions. Through their direct actions, Elbit’s factory in Oldham and their old headquarters in London have been permanently shut down.
Palestine Action is not the first group of activists to use industrial sabotage as an anti-war tactic, though.
In 1996, three women broke into a British Aerospace factory in Lancashire to damage and disarm a warplane to be sent to Indonesia. After being charged with £2.4 million worth of criminal damage, all the women were acquitted by a Liverpool jury.
A decade later in 2006, nine activists would break into the Raytheon offices in Derry, causing significant damage and coming to be known as the Raytheon 9. They, too, were charged with criminal damage as well as affray; one activist was found guilty of the theft of two computer discs, and the other activists were acquitted of all charges.
So there is a precedent for the acquittal of anti-war activists for the charge of criminal damage. However, Palestine Action has been doing direct actions ceaselessly for the past two years. Palestine Action has been operating on an unprecedented scale for this type of action.
Initially, Elbit and the British state were very reluctant to press charges against Palestine Actionists. The police would frequently tell activists occupying factories, ‘get down from there and we won’t arrest you; you can go home’, and cases were repeatedly dropped right before a scheduled trial.
This is no incompetence on behalf of Elbit or the carceral state; Elbit Systems is afraid that if Palestine Actionists are made to stand trial, so too will they. If Palestine Actionists go to court, they can tell the jury exactly what it is Elbit does, what Elbit manufactures on our doorstep in Britain, and it will be Elbit’s crimes on trial, not Palestine Action’s. That is the title of Palestine Action’s campaign: Elbit is guilty, we are not.
But Palestine Action’s mounting pressure on Elbit has forced them to take Palestine Actionists to trial. There are now several trials coming up over the next few months across England; the outcomes of these trials will set a precedent for all British anti-imperialists to come.
Palestine Action’s defence is simple: they are committing a crime to prevent further crime. If there is a dog trapped in a hot car, and you break the car window to save the dog, you have committed criminal damage but saved a life, and the owner of the dog and the car will probably thank you. It is better to destroy a factory than it is to destroy live human bodies.
In November 2023, a group of Palestine Actionists known as the Elbit Eight will stand trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court in London. The Palestine Action co-founders, Huda Ammori and Richard Barnard, are among these eight. They face the charge of criminal damage like many other Palestine Actionists, but three of the activists face trumped up ‘blackmail’ charges on the basis of letters to Elbit’s landlords at their London headquarters. This trial has been postponed three times in two years—most recently it was postponed in early October, less than a week before its scheduled date due to uncertainty around the barristers’ strikes, and it was also previously postponed when the trial date coincided with Israel bombing Gaza.
This postponement aside, there are many other trials going ahead imminently. Palestine Action have called for supporters to attend the upcoming trials. This sends a strong message to the courts, and we have seen in the past that when activists have more supporters show up to court, they are much more likely to be found not guilty.
A list of upcoming court cases can be found on Palestine Action’s website, and information about the big Elbit Eight case can be found here. Everyone who opposes the senseless and brutal murders of Palestinians should endeavour to attend at least one of these trials and continue supporting activists who are left in limbo; the future of anti-Zionist anti-apartheid organising in Britain depends upon it.