Nilüfer Erdem, Ewan Nicolson and Sherrl Yanowitz report on Monday’s protest at Elbit weapons factories in solidarity with Palestine.
Roughly a year ago Israel began a 51 day attack on the Gaza strip. More than 2,200 Palestinians died at the hands of the Israeli war machine. Many died after being hit by Hermes 450 drones produced by Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms company. Elbit builds a range of weaponry, including surveillance and missile guidance systems. It markets these weapons in the UK, France, Italy and the USA as ‘battle tested’. Tested on the bodies of Palestinians. Elbit drones are also used to patrol the border of the USA and Mexico.
A subsidiary of Elbit, UAV Engines Ltd, makes drone engines at a nondescript factory tucked away in an industrial park in the village of Shenstone, Staffordshire, not far from Birmingham. Last year at the height of the Israeli onslaught, activists occupied the factory, halting its production and costing the masters of death over £100,000. One year later the blockade of Gaza continues mercilessly.
On Monday, 6 July 2015, protesters took action at 4 Elbit owned factories in the UK and Australia. Protestors occupied the roof of the Port Melbourne factory in Australia for 5 hours. Campaigners occupied the roofs of the Elbit’s Elite KL factory in Tamworth, Staffordshire and Instro Precision in Broadstairs, Kent.
The biggest protest was at the Shenstone factory. A day long event had been planned for months by London Palestine Action along with other groups. UAV’s management are usually very secretive about the goings on in their factory. But this time they took out an injunction against the protest.
As demonstrators began arriving at the plant before dawn they were met by security guards forcing injunctions into their hands. The Staffordshire police, acting as Elbit’s mercenaries assaulted and arrested protestors as they arrived.
The day was to have begun with banner, placard and kite making. This was to be followed by creative and informative workshops and talks including using nonviolent action to ‘disarm’ the DSEI arms fair, Palestine and BDS, on Direct Action and how Elbit and Israel are connected with oppression and death in Mexico. A children’s area and a quiet space for reflection and prayer was to have been created across from the factory gates. The organisers aimed to change this site dedicated to violence and death into one of peace and hope.
Five of us from rs21 in London arrived about 9am. Despite the police violence, injunctions and arrests the protest was going strong and continued all day. At its height there were 250 or 300 protestors there. Campaigners had come from Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as coachloads from Manchester and London and elsewhere in England.
Despite the ongoing police violence there was an almost playful atmosphere surrounding the factory as a variety of organisations participated alongside London Palestine Action including War on Want, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and The Campaign against the Arms Trade. Many of the talks and workshops took place “behind the lines’ when and where conditions allowed . We had to keep an eye out for the behaviour of police on the day all the time while participating peacefully. At one point we all held up placards printed with the names and ages of Palestinians murdered last year. Musicians played, food and water was distributed freely. But even in the middle of police confrontations, sit-downs in the road and police kettles, discussions and debates went on.
We blockaded the road in front of the factory, holding the line against police charges, and assaults but were pushed further along the road from the factory gates over time. Gazebos, banners, food, and people’s possessions were trampled and shredded during the police charges. Earlier in the day upwards of thirty protestors were arrested, although not all were charged.
Police continued to confront us throughout the day. They pushed and pulled at the elderly and the weakest protesters. Several times one of us was shoved directly into a thorn bush. The police laughed and joked about those arrested earlier on in the day and how there was plenty more room for us. Their intimidation didn’t frighten us. We had Palestine on our minds. A kettle formed around a large group of people involved in a sit-in, including one of us. The atmosphere within the Kettle was intense. We thought we were all going to get arrested. One by one, they bullied defiant protesters into leaving the area. They carried away those that refused. An elderly woman was dropped on the floor banging her head on the concrete before having orders shouted at her to get up. A man and his young son were attached to one another, defiant as the police sought to separate them. The police tactics seemed intentionally to terrify us. They did not succeed.
Nineteen people were arrested and charged with violating an injunction and obstruction of the highway in one case police assault. Despite the police violence and the security guards we successfully shut down this Elbit factory for most of the day.
An amazing variety of people had come by the coachload to an obscure village in Staffordshire early in the morning. This speaks volumes to the growing strength of Palestine solidarity. On its tenth anniversary, the Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions movement continues and expands around the world. Outside a small factory in Shepstone, we were acting at one with protestors outside other plants in the UK and in Melbourne, Australia.
Alongside London Palestine Action, “we offer our solidarity to all those arrested and to the amazing people who camped out at police stations across Staffordshire to greet and support people when they were released.
We will do everything we can to support those arrested through the legal process and we will resist our state’s oppression for the same reason we stand in solidarity with Palestinians – for freedom, justice and equality”.