A direct action group in support of Palestine burst onto the scene in London this week by storming an Israeli arms company in the heart of the English capital to highlight Britain’s complicity in war crimes against the Palestinians. Four members of Palestine Action took part in the audacious daylight strike on Number 77 Kingsway, in Holborn, where Elbit Systems has its British HQ.
Elbit is Israel’s biggest private arms company. It has ten bases across Britain, including four arms factories which produce parts for drones used in Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestine.
The activists from Palestine Action also wanted to highlight the British government’s direct involvement in licensing arms deals worth around £376 million since 2015. The group was thwarted by security guards in their bid to reach the fifth floor where Elbit’s HQ is located, but staff returning to work on Friday morning found graffiti and paint splattered outside the entrance.
One elderly activist who breached the building’s security complained to journalists that she had been “ripped out of the lift and pushed against a glass door” by the guards. “We are going to take action and escalate until all complicity with Israeli apartheid ends,” she insisted. “The British government has been complicit in the colonisation of Palestine for over 100 years.”
Elbit has been targeted for direct action several times by groups around Britain after its boasts at arms fairs that its weapons are battle-tested in Gaza which has a largely civilian population. Thousands of innocent Palestinian men, women and children have been killed in Israel’s military offensives.
In its tweets about that daring raid on Thursday, Palestine Action describes itself as a nationwide network of groups and activists “promoting civil disobedience against companies and institutions that Israel uses to violently enforce apartheid, occupation and colonisation on the people of Palestine.”
According to Corporate Watch, Elbit supplied 85 per cent of Israel’s military drones deployed in the 2014 onslaught against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. It was one such drone that was used to kill four Palestinian children on a beach during the seven-week offensive, which claimed the lives of 1,462 civilians.
Elbit has incurred the wrath of numerous pro-Palestinian and anti-war activists for more than a decade because its weapons have a direct impact on civilian populations. Factories in Kent and Oldham were shut down temporarily with high-profile occupations last year. At the same time that Palestine Action breached Elbit’s outer security in central London, a large banner was unfurled in Manchester and “subvertising” posters were put up in nearby Oldham which pointed out that its weapons are, “Tested on Palestinians, used in Kashmir, Israel’s weapons made in Oldham”.
“Direct action and civil disobedience have been historically key components in anti-racism and other struggles,” explained Palestine Action’s Adie Mormech to the Morning Star. “We’re asking people to do more to take action against the 72-year oppression of the Palestinian people.”
He said that everyone needs to have a level of urgency that allows them to understand the carnage, the horror and trauma that these weapons are meting out on so many people. “We all need to say, ‘If that was my child, if that was my family, if that was on my doorstep, I wouldn’t allow it.’ Well, the company is on our doorstep and we’re not going to allow it.”
Palestine Action points out that Gaza’s skies are filled with unpiloted killer drones, controlled by soldiers who never see the lives they are destroying. “Israeli companies like Elbit Systems sell their weapons as ‘battle tested’ on a population in Gaza that is mostly children.”
Other British companies targeted by pro-Palestinian groups include Uttoxeter-based JCB, which supplies heavy machinery used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes and construct illegal colonial-settlements.
Pro-Palestine activists cite Israel’s theft of yet more land in the occupied Jordan Valley and its well documented annexation plans for the West Bank as a reason to step up campaigns to increase political and public awareness. As well as Palestine Action, a new student initiative called Apartheid Off Campus sees students taking action to expose and end the complicity between British universities and Israeli apartheid. Both Palestine Action and Apartheid Off Campus say that they are non-hierarchical and are focused on getting concrete results as a matter of urgency.
Palestine Action is calling for everyone, especially those who “oppose racism and oppression”, to join the struggle. “We will not rest until the Palestinian people get the rights and dignity we all deserve: for liberation from Israeli apartheid, occupation and colonialism. We call on all those who support justice and equality to join our movement, get active with us, and help to build a campaign capable of ending the UK’s complicity in apartheid.”
One of the greatest advocates of direct action was American civil rights activist Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that such action sought to “create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”
Highlighting the British government’s complicity in war crimes against the Palestinians through multi-million pound arms deals will certainly create the sort of tension described by Dr King. Guerrilla tactics in the heart of the British capital, close to parliament, could well do the trick.
Gaza might be thousands of miles away from Westminster, but thanks to Palestine Action and other groups British politicians might realise that remoteness from very dirty deeds is irrelevant when it comes to being complicit in war crimes. British citizens have a history of taking direct action and in doing so have achieved far more than politicians who appear to be blind to the consequences of the immoral arms trade. Yet again, our leaders are hell-bent on being on the wrong side of history. They never seem to learn.