When nine of us climbed on to the roof of an Israeli drone engine factory last August, Israel’s assault on the besieged Gaza strip was in its 28th day. Already 1865 Palestinians were dead, including 430 children; 9567 were Injured; 5500 houses had been destroyed and a quarter of a million – one in six Gaza residents – were refugees.
The offensive would continue for another 23 days, with the death toll rising to 2205 plus half a million displaced according to the United Nations. Our action was part of huge mobilisations for Palestine and Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, including 150,000 on the streets of London and copycat rooftop occupations at Thales in Glasgow and Elbit in Melbourne.
UAV Engines, owned by Israel’s biggest arms producer Elbit Systems, and based near Litchfield, manufactures engines for the Hermes 450: Israel’s ‘field tested’ and ‘combat proven’ weapon of choice. Armed drones are increasingly substituting financially and politically expensive F16s, tanks and soldiers on the ground in Israel’s wars.
The decision taken by the CPS to drop charges against us shows us that either Elbit Systems were unwilling to testify in court about their activities or because the UK government was unwilling to comply with the court’s order to disclose information it holds about licenses for arms exports to Israel, or both. The focus of the case was going to be whether or not Elbit were engaged in ‘lawful activity’ at the factory. Our contention was that the entire enterprise and arms trade with Israel are unlawful.
If we had had our week in court, the Judge would have heard expert testimony from Amnesty International; Al Mezan Director Mahmoud Abu Rahma; Channel Four News’ Paul Mason; Norwegian surgeon Dr Mads Gilbert; and our own eyewitness testimonies from Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, and Operation Pillar of Cloud in 2012.
Out of a total death toll of 1410 during Cast Lead, death by drone was the key method of killing with 513 people including 116 children killed according to the Al Mezan human rights organisation.
Israel’s next operation – Pillar of Cloud – was launched in November 2012 and lasted eight days. It set a precedent in that it was entirely carried out through aerial bombardment and relied on drone reconnaissance including 14 aerial strikes documented by Human Rights Watch ‘for which there was no indication of a legitimate military target’.
According to researchers at Drone Wars UK, Operation Protective Edge saw 831 significant strikes in 51 days, not including minor strikes.
Allegations of war crimes and the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure have been leveled at Israel by multiple human rights organisations and international agencies. The charges against us may have been dropped but we still charge Elbit, Israel and the British government with direct perpetration and complicity with crimes against humanity. Israel’s humiliating and collectively punishing blockade of Gaza, as defined by the UN Goldstone Report of 2009, is in its tenth year. This itself is a daily war crime.
The legal net needs to and will close in on Israeli impunity. Whether it’s the Palestinian Authority taking claims to the International Criminal Court or citizens taking direct action which forces implicated companies to respond – in our case, a silent dropping of our charges – we know that the UK government and these arms companies are running scared.
The de-sensitized, joystick killing that drone operators engage in, one hand on a virtual trigger, the other conceivably in a bag of popcorn, on the other side of the world (RAF Waddington in Lincoln in the case of strikes in Afghanistan) represents a new culture and industry of killing which allows for unaccountability, impunity and desensitization which make mass murder easy, clean, and distant.
History has shown us how separation and bureaucratisation within ideological projects focused on eliminating dissidents and ‘problem populations’ have unfolded. Our fight against militarisation is also the fight against the demonisation and dehumanisation of any group or class.
We hear so much scaremongering from the political Right in this country about ‘home-grown terror’ and how ‘Muslims must do more to stop it’. Well there’s terror being planned and produced right here in the UK just outside Birmingham, but not in a mosque as Fox News could have us believe, but in arms factories, like UAV Engines, equipping Israel to massacre Palestinians in Gaza, and the government is doing nothing to stop it.
Can you really spend two days on the roof of a drone factory, allegedly cost a company thousands in delayed exports and ‘get away with it’? It seems you can and the message from us is, ‘Up the Ante’, take direct action. Echoing Palestinian civil society groups, the UK government needs to shut UAV Engines and impose a two way military embargo on Israel. There is no place for these companies or any trade with apartheid Israel whilst it continues to violate international law and human rights on an ever more violent scale.
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