Palestine Action Activists Found NOT GUILTY After Defacing Israeli Arms Company In UK
Three Palestine Action activists, dubbed the ‘Elbit Three’, have today been found not guilty of criminal damage charges in a trial taking place at Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates Court. The trial, which commenced on Friday 3rd December, saw Elbit Systems and the Crown Prosecution Service attempt to criminalise individuals who took a stand against the manufacture of drones and drone parts. The products manufactured at the site of the protest, the UAV Engines factory in Shenstone, Staffordshire, are key components for a range of Elbit’s combat drones, used extensively by Israel for bombardments of Gazan civilians.
Elbit Systems are Israel’s largest private arms company, supplying 85% of Israel’s drone fleet. Their Hermes drones, manufactured with UK-made components, are regularly deployed in bombardments of Gaza, with Elbit also supplying a range of surveillance equipment, armaments, and specialist military technologies for the Israeli military and police. Palestine Action have undertaken a campaign of sustained direct action against Elbit Systems – across their 10 sites in the UK – with this action in Shenstone having occured in January 2021, six months since Palestine Action launched. Despite many dozens of actions taken, and over £15,000,000 in damages caused (according to police), this is the first time that activists had faced trial, with all previous charges having been dropped in the run-up to trial dates.
The presiding judge, Judge Waites, stated that the Crown had failed to prove that convicting the defendents would be proportionate with their freedom to protest. He stated further points which included: Palestine is an important issue, the arms trade is an important issue, the defendants believed in what they were doing, and the location was specifically chosen. These are the points that Palestine Action has long stated: through targetted and deliberate direct action, individuals can make a measured impact on the lives of civilians in Palestine by disrupting and undermining Israel’s arms trade.
This verdict represents a serious defeat for Elbit Systems, who have long maintained that their business is lawful and that they are therefore to be protected from such actions. This belief has been shared by the British state: the police have offered a round-the-clock rapid response and extensive protection to Elbit’s death factories, and the CPS have attempted to prosecute those who take a stand against Elbit’s business of bloodshed.
The defence, represented by Palestinian barrister Mira Hammad and Richard Brigden of Garden Court North (instructed by Kelly’s solicitors), presented their case that the action taken was to prevent a greater crime. An activist involved in the trial elaborated, stating that the action was taken to shut down the factory for one day in an attempt to stem the flow of drones and stop the bombings. They stated that Elbit provide 85% of Israel’s drones, with Elbit describing themselves as the ‘backbone’ of the Israeli airforce, adding that there is extensive documentation of the drones being used for attacks on the civil population of Gaza. They stated that this is not only during intensive military excursions, but also for extrajudicial killings and indescriminate bombings – with Elbit drones being linked directly to the killing of four children playing on a beach in Gaza in 2014.
Another activist, Sarah, later stated that:
“Throwing this paint may not protect Gaza. What protects Gaza is stopping the bombing. Elbit produce weapons, tanks and drones used to commit crimes against humanity, and this is what is unlawful. Export licenses should not be granted while Elbit continue to violate human rights. In the face of these crimes, you have to do something. If you do nothing, then Elbit continues to make its smart weaponry which enables Israel to kill efficiently. Elbit has no business being allowed to be in the UK. It has no values that are shared with humanity”. Following this, a standing ovation was given from the public gallery.