Over the last month we have seen sustained direct action by members of the new UK group Palestine Action against the sites of Israel’s largest weapons company Elbit Systems, notably the London office at 77 Kingsway in Central London. After just a month, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Orit Farkash HaCohen has already expressed alarm about these actions to the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, even bringing up the direct concern of Israeli arms companies like Elbit Systems continuing to do business in London, saying:
“The de-legitimization campaign against Israel has become widespread throughout Europe and the world, including in England.. Only last weekend, the offices of an Israeli security company were vandalized, for the fourth time in the last month. We want Israeli companies to continue doing business in London. It’s good for both countries.”
None of us want Israel’s companies building their killing machines off the deaths of so many, in London or anywhere else. So just a month of these actions and already these arms dealers and apartheid profiteers are feeling threatened? Then of course we should mobilize more and more.
As Palestine activists a big question we have to ask ourselves is – what actually causes Israel’s war machine harm? What threatens Israel’s arms industry and complicit companies in a Western country? What can we say is appropriate action when since Israel’s 2014 51-day bombing of Gaza that killed over 500 children, Israel has increased their UK weapons trade by £100ms of pounds?
Most of the organizing for Palestine in our Western countries is too comfortable. Too much of what is defined as activism and solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice has been in the form of angry facebook posts to a limited circle of friends or listening to talks where we learn a little bit more than we already know. The truth is we know enough – Palestine is simple. Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinians in 1948, with a settler colonial project that has since got worse and worse, culminating in an apartheid system that includes regular mass slaughter, incarceration and racist violence against the remaining Palestinian population. Now do something. We are against a powerful state practitioner of violence with powerful allies, yet most of our solidarity has zero risk for ourselves.
How do we expect change to happen without taking a small risk of challenging directly the centers of Israel’s power, like its arms companies on our high streets and in our communities? We’re not asking people to protest marching towards the bullets like the Great Return March in Gaza just to demand a return to their land. Or in the West Bank against more land theft. We’re saying that given the privilege we have, the relative safety we have, and the enormous crimes we know these Israeli arms companies and institutions are helping to bring about against the Palestinians, the least we can do is step up our civil disobedience and targeted mobilization and stand in the way.
Personally speaking, the times where I put myself in the way a little more were the times I felt I was pushing further at the roots of the problem. Knowing that overrode any fears I had for the relatively small consequences, which every time were even less of an issue that I thought they’d be.
I was in Gaza for two years and I will never forget my time in Al Shifa central hospital during Israel’s 8-day bombing in November 2012. Burnt bodies, children dying in the intensive care unit, entire families wiped out. The devastation and grief of the families left behind. I also taught the kids of the Samouni family who lost 29 members in 3 days in the Cast Lead attacks of 2009. Back in the UK, when I took part in the rooftop occupation of the Elbit owned UAV drone engine factory in Shenstone in 2014 during Israel’s Cast Lead bombing, one of my students in Gaza who I knew well was killed by a drone with her two babies, husband and mother in law. They were one of 90 families to be wiped off the citizen registry in those 51 days. 85% of Israel’s drones are made by Elbit Systems, so who knows if the engines built in this arms factory beneath me in central England, were being used in those bombings that killed so many people in Gaza. Israel sells these weapons as “Field-Tested” on the Palestinian population, a human laboratory for arms development.
Now in Gaza Palestinians are facing a spread of Coronavirus while under Israel’s 13-year inhuman blockade of its air, sea and land borders that limit food and medical supplies. They have also just been bombed by Israeli jets and drones for at least 14 consecutive nights.
Clearly we need to accelerate and employ all tactics to overcome Israeli Apartheid, with an urgency like we have all just stepped out of Al-Shifa hospital. Direct action has always been a key component of international solidarity with liberation movements that were fought and won, and we haven’t used enough of it. The actions at the Elbit London central office is already proof enough of that, let alone the indisputable legacy of direct action and civil disobedience in the civil rights movement, the suffragettes, LGBTQ+ rights, the anti-apartheid movement and more recently with Black Lives Matter, the environmental movement and the fight for indigenous rights. More proof is that by challenging Elbit directly, the exposure of Elbit Systems in the UK has been elevated like never before, re-focusing attention on Israel’s ongoing oppression against the Palestinians and UK complicity with it.
Palestine Action has it right – and so we must unite to take action. The Israeli government and its supporters clearly fear mass direct action against their biggest weapons company Elbit – a company making money from the spilling of so much Palestinian blood – not red paint. Direct action needs numbers. It needs people there in support. It needs reporting. It needs people in the places where Israel’s apartheid conspirators and profiteers think it’s OK to put their foot down in our own countries. It’s not OK.
If we all mobilise we can push them out, I am sure of that, so how can we hesitate given what the Palestinians are facing, the urgency is now, today and it works.
There are many ways to get involved, and many ways to support other actions taking place.
Get involved with Palestine Action here: bit.ly/JoinPalAct Help fund the actions here: https://gf.me/u/ypkrtx and see the Facebook and Twitter and the website for the latest actions and the background to the group.
Outside of the UK take that step up in your own countries. We know it works and we know what the Palestinians are facing – so we have no excuses.