Instro Precision hides itself away. It hides out in a corner of an out-of-town industrial estate on the South East Coast of England. It hides the lethal end-use of its products behind a mass of euphemisms, like ‘target acquisition’ and ‘precision contract manufacturing’. And Instro hides its owner and controlling company, Elbit Systems, which is Israel’s largest military company.
Elbit is well-known to anti-militarist and Palestine solidarity campaigners. It is a major drone manufacturer, supplier to the IDF, and in its marketing it boasts to those who care about these things that weapons bought from Elbit have been ‘combat proven’, ‘battle tested’. Elbit’s drones are, in its own words, ‘the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF’s) UAS force’. In fact, they constitute about 85% of all drones used by the IDF.
So Elbit’s drones are combat proven in Gaza. They have been battle tested on the Palestinians. The company is not concerned. In fact, the company is happy to exploit the tragedy in Palestine in order to increase its profits and world profile. Elbit sends its drones and other weapons round the world, not just to Israel.
All of that was why – initially, at least – we targetted a company in Broadstairs, Kent; a company which hardly anyone had heard of, specialising in the field of ‘precision engineering’. We didn’t want an Elbit factory on our doorstep.
Two occupations, no arrests
We’ve now stopped Instro working for two days in the last 6 months. We’ve come to think that they – and Elbit – must be hiding something else as well.
In February, we occupied the rooftop and staged a public demonstration at the gates. That closed the factory for a day. We did the same last week, to coincide with a larger protest at another Elbit factory at Shenstone, Staffordshire. Last week, someone also left behind a message painted on the building for the Instro workers – which the company did not succeed in cleaning up before the factory opened up for business on the day after the protest. The workers must have seen the message, and they must have seen the mass of ribbons which we knotted to the gates and roof, each one inscribed with the name and age of a Gazan killed in last year’s massacre.
Just as in February, when protestors came down from the roof at the close of the working day, they were greeted on the ground by Kent police. But the message both in February and again last week was that the police had no intention of arresting anyone. Indeed, we were told that the Chief Superintendent had ordered no arrests and we were free to go home, despite the evidence – in their words – that the painted slogan constituted ‘criminal damage’.
This hands-off policy towards protesters is practically unheard of, let alone for occupations which disrupt the business of a company for two full working days. With annual staff costs of £3,368,240, one day of lost work must have cost the company at least £13,000 in labour costs alone1. Two days of protests in 5 months makes at least £26,000, and that’s without the lost production costs. For Elbit as a whole, a greater loss still, as two whole days were lost at Shenstone last year, and more last week, at Tamworth, Staffordshire, in Melbourne, Australia, and again at Shenstone.
So at a very conservative estimate, Elbit must have suffered a loss of about £100,000 ($155,000) in a single year as a result of protestors’ actions. In fact the cost is likely to be more than half a million dollars. A police statement on the Shenstone protests of last year contained an estimate from David Cliff, the General Manager of the company: “The value of lost production for the two days we were forced to close amounted to £186,000”2 ($290,000).
Is Elbit afraid?
Companies in this country have a mass of legislation and support from the police, the CPS, the Government to make sure that their financial interests are protected. Blockades and occupations are almost always broken up and almost always lead to charges and a court case. Yet Instro seems to be prepared to let us close it down not once, but twice, and the police in Kent seem to be happy to oblige them.
If Instro isn’t hiding something, why would they allow two full days of disruption, bad publicity and rooftop occupation in just 5 months? Why have protesters who caused mass disruption and financial loss not been pursued, arrested, prosecuted for their actions?
We see no other explanation for the green light from the company and Kent police for our actions than that Instro-Elbit has a great deal more to hide.
Instro is Elbit
Instro is tightly bound up with Elbit Systems and the crimes of one cannot be disconnected from the other.
Last November, we trawled the Elbit website and accounts. Buried in a 2010 listing of Elbit’s subsidiaries, we found Instro. Buried in Instro’s accounts from 2012, we found Elbit. We learned that Instro’s directors were ‘of the opinion that the company is ultimately controlled by Elbit Systems’.
But Instro isn’t only a financial interest for its parent company. Soon after Elbit bought up Instro in 2010, they sent Yoram Aron off to work at Instro. Aron was previously Group Manager at Elop – Elbit Systems Electro-Optics. Three further managers at Elbit were appointed as Directors of the newly acquired Instro, and shortly afterwards, a fourth. Today Instro has 4 Directors out of 7 straight from Elbit. The latest is Elad Ahoronson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Elbit’s newly created and much trumpeted ISTAR division. Ahoronson is a rising star in Elbit. We don’t think he would bother with a tiny company in Broadstairs if it wasn’t central to Elbit and ISTAR’s future strategy.
Is the Government afraid?
We know that Instro regularly sends its targetting equipment off to Israel – as well as other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, and both sides of the India – Pakistan conflict. We also know that we’re not meant to know about the export licences which the UK Government has given to another of Elbit’s subsidiary companies, UAV Engines, based in Shenstone. The case against protestors at the Shenstone plant last year was dropped when their defence requested details of the licences for exports to Israel.
So we want to see the export licences which Instro holds for Israel. We particularly want to know if Instro is the holder of any of the three licences for ‘targetting equipment’, identified by the UK Government last year at the peak of the Gaza conflict as posing a risk of being ‘used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.’ Those licences were not rescinded, despite the permanent state of violence by the State of Israel towards the Palestinians, and the constant risk of escalation into yet another massacre.
In fact, the UK Government approved fresh arms to Israel in the 4 months after Gaza to the tune of about £4 million.
Who holds the potentially criminal licences identified by the Government? Why will Instro-Elbit neither comment on our actions, nor deny the charges we have made against them of complicity in war crimes? Why don’t they prosecute us for the losses they have suffered?
Are the answers to these questions somehow related?
On the day of action, we distributed leaflets among the local population in Broadstairs. Almost no-one knew that Israel had a pet arms company in the community; and almost all were shocked to learn of its existence, and gave us their support. The protest reached the local media, the national media and the blogosphere.
Instro is increasingly unable to hide out in Broadstairs, unable to mask the end-use of its ‘targetting equipment’, unable to hide its connections with Elbit, with Israel, and with Palestinian deaths. We will continue to unmask them, and we won’t stop targetting the company until Instro-Elbit stops its targetting of human beings. Unlike their weapons, ours do not kill.
“We heard the sounds of the drones getting louder in a crazy way, as if they were on steroids… Their buzzing sounds were piercing our ears creating cancers in our heads. They were hovering day and night without stopping and we wished they would cease for minutes so that we could sleep. It was funny that my sister and I tried helplessly using earplugs that never helped. At night and when Gaza sank into darkness without electricity, they were both the source of light illuminating the sky and death. They were in such incredibly large numbers that we used to joke saying that Israel is ordering one drone for each person in Gaza…
I often dwell on the persisting and disturbing memories of the drones and think of what an airplane represents in any other place. There, they are a means of transport that facilitate people’s lives. Here, in Gaza, they are a constant source of danger as they may kill you if they identify you as a threat, so much easier and quicker than you could ever imagine.”
Ayah Bashir, a Gaza-based BDS activist (quoted here)
1. This figure assumes a 5-day working week. In the spring of this year, Instro announced that they were moving to a 4-day working week, closing the factory on Fridays. We don’t know if that policy is still in force, but if it is, the daily labour costs rise to about £16,000
2. See https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/asa-winstanley/case-dropped-against-protesters-who-cost-elbit-drone-parts-factory-280000