This article appeared in Thanet Watch in July 2015
From Kent to ‘Countries of Concern’
In February of this year, we occupied the rooftop of our local weapons company – Instro Precision. We sat up for a day, sang songs and draped enormous banners down the building. The factory was closed, the media was alerted. Messages about the occupation and the company went out around the world. The messages were not exactly good for business.
And yet Instro did not respond. They didn’t bother to refute the claims that we were making and haven’t tried to claim back what we must have cost them for a day’s lost business. Most astonishing of all, we weren’t arrested. That doesn’t happen when you close a factory down.
Instro is Elbit
Instro is fully owned by Israel’s largest weapons company, Elbit Systems. Elbit is a monster. It supplies nearly all the drones that the Israeli army uses against the Palestinians, and it markets them around the world as ‘battle tested’.
Last summer, 40 days of constant ‘battle testing’ killed 2,220 Palestinians. Nearly 1,500 were civilians; more than 500 were children. Over the same time period, 71 Israelis were killed. 5 were civilians and 1 was a child.
One bomb expert reckoned that between eighteen to twenty thousand tons of explosives had been dropped on Gaza in under 2 months. That’s roughly equivalent to one of the atomic bombs the United States dropped on Japan in August 1945.
War crimes in Gaza
The residents of Gaza have been under siege for 8 years. The siege has been condemned by every human rights body as a violation of international law; the bombing in the summer was condemned by the UN, by Amnesty, and by all the others; and international lawyers have declared that Gaza is effectively occupied by Israel.
Now imagine if East Kent was under siege and occupied. Imagine if we had to endure a Hiroshima-sized explosion that killed 500 children, bombed our hospitals and schools and left 100,000 people homeless. What would we think about another country that made weapons for the army which was bombing us, and sold them even while the bombs were falling?
The arms trade in East Kent
Instro is one of 5 big companies in our region which makes parts for weapons and exports them to countries where human rights abuses are ‘severe’, or threaten UK interests, or could have wider repercussions in the region. That isn’t just our view, but the view of the UK Government.
Each year, the Foreign Office makes a list of ‘countries of concern’. We dug through the list, and found that we send weapons parts to all of them. Israel is on the list, so is Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, Belarus, Colombia – and 22 others. We send weapons off to all the ‘countries of concern’. And then we wonder why they use the weapons for the very purpose which a weapon is supposed to carry out: to kill.
Even while the bombs were flying in the summer, the Government refused to stop the flow of weapons from the UK. Instro’s ‘licence’ to export to Israel was not rescinded; nor was Meggitt’s (based in Ashford), nor was BAE’s (in Rochester).
We suspect that that’s why we were not arrested. Look at what happened, after all, to the occupiers of another Elbit factory up in Leicestershire, in the summer of 2014. Those protesters were arrested, but rather than charging them (which would have been easy) the case was dropped. We think that Elbit or the Government must have so much to hide that they don’t want to have to put the case in court – even if that means they have to let rooftop protesters walk away.
Campaign Against Arms Trade – East Kent
After the Gaza attacks, we decided that we had to stop the weapons flow from Kent. So we set up a campaigning group to target local companies.
We know that jobs are hard to come by at the moment, but we think that most people would rather that they weren’t employed to arm aggressive and repressive military regimes around the world – and we suspect that many aren’t aware of how the products put out by their company are used. We want to raise awareness locally and – at least – stop parts from being shipped to countries that are actively engaged in war or military oppression.
On June 13th, we’ll be holding a skills building workshop at the Red Hall in Broadstairs. We’ll be using it to plan more local actions. If you’re interested in attending, or in finding out more about CAAT East Kent, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at https://caatekent.wordpress.com/
In September, we’ll be following the 5 Kent arms companies to the International Arms Fair in London (DSEI). We won’t be taking weapons to sell.