In February, another Elbit factory was shut down1. One more day of no more profit, no more parts and no more contribution to the industry of war – from one more factory, anyway.
The place was Broadstairs, Kent. The Company was Instro Precision, a subsidiary owned by Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest military company and a leading manufacturer of drones worldwide. Instro is the arm of Elbit specialising in ‘precision target location, long range surveillance and specialist sensors for vehicles’.
This isn’t children’s toys. The things which are the objects of surveillance, the targets Instro-Elbit helps locate (precisely) are human beings, hospitals, homes, schools, power stations, water treatment plants, and anything else the Israeli army thinks it worth identifying and destroying. Elbit provides the Israeli army with 85% of all its drones. Those drones are regularly used to monitor and terrorise and kill in Palestine2.
We occupied the Instro factory because we were outraged by war crimes3 carried out in Gaza in the summer, by the ongoing terror, trauma, and attacks on human life, and by the failure to hold anyone to account. We were outraged that companies like Elbit profit from such crimes4 and even seek out future clients with the boast that their weapons have been ‘battle proven’5. We were outraged that parts for those weapons are manufactured in this country, and that our government approves them for export to Israel6.
Outsiders may not have the power or influence to stop the Israeli army from carrying out its crimes against the Palestinians. But when some of the weapons used are manufactured on our doorstep, and when our government agrees to hand them over to the Israeli army, we need to put a stop to that. On Tuesday, in a small way, that was what we did.
Amazingly, they let us get away with it. For 15 hours we occupied the rooftop, locked on to the front gates, chanted, beat our drums and hung our banners advertising Elbit’s role in Israel’s war machine. The workers at the plant were told to stay at home, at least 3 lorries trying to deliver parts were turned away, the heating from an empty building blasted through the roof. We had a stream of press and passers-by throughout the day.
Yet no-one was arrested. No-one was even questioned by police.
Whoever heard of a rooftop protest and a lock-on where police stand by all day and then at close of play, announce that everyone can come down safely and they’ll pretend it hasn’t happened. Whoever heard of a company closed down for business, happy to forgive protestors who have scaled the building, occupied the roof and draped their banners shouting war crimes half way down the building.
What held the police back, what frightened the company? So frightened them, apparently, that in spite of all the bad publicity, the loss in profits and the message that it sends to anyone who thinks of occupying roofs of weapons factories – protestors did not even receive a reprimand.
Six police vehicles turned up first thing; five drove away. The one that stayed parked some way from the gates and officers mostly remained in the van. No cutting team was called in to remove the protestor from the front gate, no efforts were made to communicate with those on the rooftop, to bring them down and take them into custody. At the end of the working day, when we came down of our own accord, they didn’t take our names or question us: they let us drive away.
That isn’t what they did last summer, when protestors occupied the rooftop at a second Elbit factory, UAV Engines Ltd. It isn’t what they did in Glasgow when protestors climbed onto the roof at Thales. Indeed, whenever companies are occupied, closed down, blockaded, or even just the object of a noisy protest, it isn’t what they do. When direct action disrupts the business of companies, the police step in. This time they didn’t.
Instro wouldn’t comment on our occupation. Elbit wouldn’t comment. And just 2 weeks before, the case was dropped against the UEL protestors of the summer, the very inspiration for our action. Their case was dropped, apparently, because the company managers refused to testify against a group of people who had cost them nearly £200,000 and acres of bad publicity. The managers’ refusal came on the eve of the scheduled case and just in time to prevent the defence from accessing more detail on the export licences to Israel approved by the British Government.
Evidently, Elbit or the Government don’t want a court case. And if that’s the case, they must have even more to hide than sent us to the rooftop in the first place.
Which leaves us wondering how much disrupted business they will tolerate.
1. The action was jointly organised by CAAT East Kent, Brighton BDS, Brighton Palestine Action, Smash EDO, Stop NATO Cymru, Anarchist Action Network, East Kent CAAT, Swansea Action for Palestine. Support also from London Palestine Action
2. See Corporate Watch’s report ‘Life beneath the drones‘
3. See, for example, Amnesty’s report, comments by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, by UNRWA, Kofi Annan, Human Rights Watch – not to mention many others
4. David Cronin estimates that the value of Elbit’s orders rose by $500 million over the twelve months from November 2013
5. The Elbit website advertises the Hermes 450 drone as ‘battle proven’ – see http://elbitsystems.com/Elbitmain/files/HERMES_450.pdf
6. Instro received export licences to Israel in 2010 and 2012 (from an FOI request submitted by Campaign Against the Arms Trade