Israeli arms company and UK government “running scared” from accusation of war crimes by rooftop protestors
Activists have accused the UK government and Israeli arms company Elbit Systems of running scared from a court case that would have put their collusion with Israeli war crimes on trial.
This follows the announcement that all charges have been dropped against nine campaigners who occupied the roof of an Elbit Systems factory in Staffordshire during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. This means that the UK government will no longer be required to reveal details of the arms trade with Israel, and Elbit will avoid having to testify about the use of its drones during Israel’s massacre in Gaza last summer.
The protest shut down UAV Engines, owned by Israel’s Elbit Systems, for two days from 5-6 August 2014 during Israel’s 50 day assault on the Gaza strip.
The Israeli-owned factory exports engines to Israel for use in Elbit’s Hermes 450 drones that are widely documented as having been used to deliberately attack Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including during Israel’s massacre of more than 2,300 Palestinians last summer.
The activists pleaded not guilty to charges of “preventing lawful activity” on the basis that the operations at the Staffordshire factory were aiding and abetting war crimes and therefore illegal.
Lawyers for the defendants say it appears the case collapsed either because the prosecution had been told either that 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.
Jessica Nero, one of the defendants, said:
“This news is bitter-sweet for us, as Elbit and the UK government have run scared from having their role in Israeli war crimes put on trial. In order to prove us guilty of ‘disrupting lawful activity’, the prosecution had to show that it is legal to export drone engines to Israel, but they know there’s nothing legal about aiding and abetting war crimes.”
“Elbit’s drones played a key role in Israel’s massacre of more than 2,300 Palestinians in Gaza this summer. UN bodies and international human rights organisations have accused Israel of war crimes during its recent Gaza massacre. What will it take for the UK government to impose a two way military embargo on Israel and hold it accountable for its crimes against humanity?”
The UK has authorised £49m worth of arms to Israel since 2010. Figures from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade show that the UK exported £7m of weapons in the six months leading up to the Gaza war, including components for drones.
“When I visited Gaza at the end of 2013 I talked to people who had lost loved ones to drone attacks. They all made it very clear that they don’t have any faith in governments to hold Israel to account. But what they did have faith in was the power of people around the world to organise in solidarity and increase the pressure on arms dealers and politicians, and that is what we will continue to do”
The Staffordshire factory is also part of the Watchkeeper program under which Elbit Systems is leading production of a new generation of drones for the UK military modeled on the Hermes 450.
Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest military company and markets its technology as “field tested”, by which it means they have been tested on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, campaigners say.
In November, more than 12 Barclays branches across the UK were closed by sit-in occupations protesting the bank’s investment in Elbit Systems.
For more on our factory occupation, see either our Comment Is Free piece from the time or our explanatory blog post.
On UK arms links with Israel: “Britain granted 68 export licences for £6.96m of military-use items to be sent to Israel between January and the end of June . The licences covered a broad range of weaponry, including parts for drones and combat jets.”
On Israeli drones: Israel is the single largest exporter of drones in the world, responsible for 41% of all UAVs exported between 2001 and 2011 (SIPRI Military Expenditure Datatbase, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). According to one Elbit boss, they’re the “world’s leading exporter of UAVs”. They call UAVs “undoubtedly relevant” and “extremely dominant” during the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza. The Israeli army’s chief artillery officer, Roy Riftin, said on 12 August that drones produced by Elbit had been a “real asset” during the recent bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which has to date killed over 2,000 Palestinians. More references can be provided if useful.
Israel uses the Hermes 450 for surveillance and targeting for Israel’s F-16 fighters, but also for direct attacks. Note: Israel refuses to confirm officially that it uses armed drones, despite multiple journalists and defence sources evidencing that they do (e.g. the International Business Times, Wikileaked US Embassy cables, military websites, and Israel’s own Jerusalem Post and Haaretz).
In November, the Independent reported that the government had launched a fresh review into arms sales to Israel. The failure of the government to suspend 12 licenses for arms which officials believed may have been used during Israel’s attack on Gaza caused a split in the Coalition government and led to the resignation of Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi.