The same week that two Palestinian activists were released from prison after a month of pre-trial detention at Eastwood Park Prison and HMP Bristol respectively, Palestine Action successfully and permanently closed Elbit’s headquarters in central London. May this year saw an increased effort by the direct action group, to step up its efforts in the offices opposite the Holborn tube in central London. The group has been around for less than two years but already managed to close the doors of Elbit’s head office and one of its largest factories in Oldham earlier this year. Elbit Systems supplies the Israeli army with 85% of its killer drones, known to have been used by the IDF to kill children. They manufacture weapons, surveillance equipment, bullets, and other materials used in Merkava tanks and planes, including deadly, cutting-edge AI technology.
Palestine Action has specialized in often audacious occupations of Elbit sites, factories and offices. The group also targeted its owners, JLL (Jones Lang Lasalle). They used their human resources wisely and efficiently. Considering the security Elbit was forced to employ, they are after all a security company with factories on RAF bases, that’s quite an achievement. The cost for Elbit is calculated in millions. Only three people have been known to evade security and shut down a site for a day or more.
The first action on Elbit HQ took place during the lockdown. Activists broke into the offices on the ground floor and upstairs. Before leaving, they sprayed the walls with the words “we will be back”. True to their word, less than two years later, with no fewer than fifteen more visits from PA, Elbit was kicked out. Last summer, the ledge covering the heavily guarded entrance was occupied for a day before Elbit wisely removed it. Firefighters were called but refused to evacuate the activists. Then, in May this year, other recruits began to lock themselves in outside the main entrance. At its peak, there were up to three actions a week. It was becoming a regular sight for regulars at nearby Nero and Leon cafes, which flank the rather anonymous but massive security gate at 77 Kingsway. On at least one occasion, activists disguised themselves as Café Nero workers to avoid detection, but other creative tactics were used, including fake deliveries until security caught on.
Gamze, who has occupied the entrance twice in as many weeks, finally locked herself on a stepladder as she halted business for the second time. “Somewhat surreal, exciting, even if there is still a lot to do, the larger question of what is happening in Palestine. This is the second time we’ve proven that direct action works. Our strategy is working, maybe [Elbit] should have some thought, we’re not leaving. They are not about security. They are war criminals.
The magnitude of this latest shutdown cannot be overstated. Elbit’s war trade is great. The biggest customer is actually the far-right Indian government which uses Elbit drones to target Kashmiris. They also export weapons that are used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. They now have contracts with the UK Ministry of Defense to monitor migrants seeking refuge in the UK and are testing the technology with UK police.
For all its victories, including in court, Palestine Action has paid the price in injuries, house searches and around 150 arrests as well as the recent incarceration (in pre-trial detention) of two Israeli dissidents who were part of a team that is barricaded in the Bristol Offices, but the rewards have been unprecedented considering the size of the group and the length of time they have been in business. Many in Palestine Action feel aligned with anarchist and anti-capitalist class politics in general, but the group operates on a non-political basis, which has served them well. They have a simple action agreement and a single mission: to permanently close all Elbit operations in the UK. Volunteers are free to have different points of view. Similarly, activists have different motivations. They welcome anyone as long as they are not, according to their convention of action “an asshole”. They operate on a semi-secret, need-to-know, action-oriented basis with little public discussion. When they do occur, they are primarily for outreach and recruitment purposes. They have now extended their network to Scotland with a team that recently intervened at the Thales factory. Elbit has affiliates all over Europe and of course Palestine Action also has links to the global BDS movement and other anti-racism and anti-gun groups.
On the future, another member said, “As Elbit introduces more security, we need to think about different ways to access it [on roofs] but so far we are still managing it, we started using vans and stuff. Factory security is notorious for attacking and following us up ladders. We fear that they will be injured – as well as us! A few of us have already had falls and been victims of overactive safety. It may seem like a challenge to outsmart them, but we try to remember why we are doing it. It’s not a game, it’s solidarity with the Palestinians, it’s a matter of class oppression as much as anything else, to fight back.
PA activists were among the first on the ground in the recent anti-raid stop in Peckham, as well as the anti-deportation flight action last week. There were also several actions in collaboration with Extinction Rebellion, which had a huge influence on the group. Miriam, a 23-year-old PA veteran and activist for numerous climate and anti-immigration groups, said“I see the links between anti-colonial and climate groups under the umbrella of anti-oppression. There is a link between the lack of respect for ecology and people obviously. Capitalist oppression does not make The first step in colonization is to dehumanize and delegitimize people or animals that can be exploited by warmongers who can profit from them.”
The latest action at Kingsway included two Palestinian activists while two Israeli comrades were still in prison, a beautiful symmetry of solidarity. All are currently free. So far, so good.
If you want to take action with Palestine Action, join our workshop to learn more. Every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. use the link below:
Topic: Workshop Action Palestine: Direct action and preparation for arrest.
Image by Guy Smallman