Xī Mingyue reports on weapons manufacturer Elbit’s loss of two major contracts in the UK, and highlights the need for solidarity with Palestine Action activists currently facing trials for their part in the protests that closed down major Elbit sites in Oldham and London.
Elbit Systems is the largest privately-owned arms company dealing with Israel. It supplies the Israeli military with 85% of its killer drones, and is the Israeli Defence Force’s sole supplier of small calibre ammunition. It is also one of the main providers of the electronic detection fence system for the apartheid wall.
Last November, the UK Defence Procurement Minister, Alex Chalk, revealed that Elbit Systems lost a £160 million Dreadnought-class submarine crew contract, and a £123 million Project Selborne navy training contract. These contract losses were revealed in response to questions from the Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey, as well as Labour MPs Chris Evans and Kevan Jones, both associated with Labour Friends of Israel.
These lost contracts have been attributed to the work of the direct action group Palestine Action, who have repeatedly targeted Elbit Systems by causing damage to their factories and offices and protesting at Elbit sites. Palestine Action regularly shuts down Elbit’s buildings for several days, and has permanently shut down two of Elbit’s British sites: their factory in Oldham, and their headquarters in London.
Palestine Action has garnered a lot of support from local communities and other activist groups, including Oldham Peace and Justice, Jewish Voices for Labour and Manchester Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and has carved out a sustainable model for direct action activism. Many people who may support a direct action movement are put off by the risk of arrest, and by encouraging local supporters to attend regular actions without participating in the direct action itself, Palestine Action’s approach allows for a wider layer of people to participate, while some who feel more able or willing to do so take direct action to shut down the Elbit sites. Support from local groups and communities is incredibly important for Palestine Action’s message: that Elbit Systems is manufacturing weapons on our doorstep, in Britain, which will be used to murder innocent Palestinian lives. Though we are not in Palestine, Britain plays a vital role in the imperialist chain of destruction that terrorises Palestinians, and British people have a direct role to play in the fight against apartheid.
People who have taken part in Palestine Action protests currently face a series of court trials for their activism. Many criminal trials are now delayed by more than two years after the actions took place due to court delays. The first three activists to appear in court, accused of criminal damage, were found not guilty by a District Judge in Newcastle under Lyme Magistrates Court in December 2021. In November 2022, five more were acquitted by a jury in a Crown Court in London. Another judgment in Wolverhampton Magistrates court found that: ‘The Crown [i.e.the Prosecution) had accepted that the defendants had reasonable beliefs that Elbit was producing arms, which were supplied to Israel, and which caused the deaths of Palestinians’. This January should have seen another Crown Court trial in Manchester – but like almost all others related to the factory formerly known as Elbit in Oldham, which was closed in January 2022, this was also postponed until November this year. Crown Court trials (with juries) are now timetabled throughout this year.
Palestine Action have requested that supporters come to the trials, either to sit in the gallery or to show support outside the courts. Let’s send a clear message to Elbit Systems and the British state: we do not consent to weapons of apartheid being manufactured in our towns and cities.