In the coming months, the Crown Prosecution Service is gearing up its attempts to repress the UK Palestine solidarity movement. Palestine solidarity organisers are due to face a long succession of trials.
For years, people around the UK have been taking action against Elbit, Israel’s largest private arms company.
Elbit supplies the majority of the drones used by the Israeli military to murder Palestinians, and people have long been trying to push the company out of the UK.
The direct action campaign stepped up in 2020, when the Palestine Action campaign was launched
Conspiracy to attack corporate profit
This week eight people were due to be tried for conspiracy to blackmail, a charge that – as far as we know – hasn’t been used against UK social movements since the state’s suppression of the animal rights movement.
When the state used the charge against the animal rights movement it led to brutal sentences of up to 11 years in prison (although the circumstances of the cases are vastly different).
However, the blackmail trial against the ‘Elbit Eight’ was postponed at the last minute. Palestine Action said the trial had been delayed for a minimum of one year.
The postponed blackmail trial followed the failed case of five people who had locked-on to the gates of Elbit’s UAV engines factory, and sprayed the gates with red paint. The case was dropped against them in September, on the day they had been due to attend a court hearing.
A further three people, who had been arrested at an action outside Elbit’s office in London, also had their trial postponed after the prosecution failed to submit evidence.
These kind of delays have been the norm for years; very few people have been successfully prosecuted during the course of the campaign against Elbit. The likely reason for this is that the Israeli company is extremely scared of having its business exposed through court proceedings.
In 2015, a case against nine protesters collapsed after defence lawyers asked for disclosure of arms export licenses. This has set the scene for many years of failed prosecutions. In December 2021, the first case to actually reach trial resulted in three people being acquitted of criminal damage after throwing red paint over Elbit subsidiary UAV Engines in Shenstone. The judge:
stated that the Crown had failed to prove that convicting the defendants 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.
The state defends arms dealers
Despite the ongoing delays, the state is gearing up to criminalise the movement. Its hand has unfortunately been strengthened by the state’s recent appeal of the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the case of the Colston Four (the four people who were prosecuted for toppling the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol).
The verdict of the Court of Appeal didn’t overturn the ‘not guilty’ verdict against the Colston Four, but it does limit the defences available to people accused of criminal damage through limiting the use of the human rights defence of ‘proportionality’.
In the coming months we will see how this important appeal judgement plays out in the trials of those who have taken action against Elbit. However, the Colston judgement only takes away one possible defence. As Andy Meinke argued in Freedom:
This judgement gives them [defendants] one less string to their bow, but it’s very tricky shooting multiple arrows at once. An obvious example is Palestine Action with 36+ people facing crown court cases with a high chance of imprisonment if convicted.
Meinke further stated that he hoped that juries will “care more about the fact that people in Palestine are being killed and brutalised with British built weapons than a ‘right’ to protest about it”. This is because protesters can argue that they acted out of necessity or to prevent a greater crime – and neither of these defences are affected by the Colston judgement.
Defendants are better off having their case in front of a jury, than leaving their fate up to a judge. But it’s important that we should never put juries on a pedestal, they are a part of the Criminal Justice System (CJS), which is a tool created by the state to enforce repressive, racist and classist laws. From my own personal experience, class often plays a key role in jury verdicts, defendants who can pass as middle or upper class are more likely to be found not guilty.
In the case of Palestine and the arms trade the situation is a little different. All the same racial and class biases are still present, but the cause itself – seen through a human rights lens – is capable of being viewed as more ‘worthy’ by juries – and even to an extent by judges too. This situation is beneficial for the Palestine solidarity movement, but it should never be allowed to obscure the massive suffering caused by the entire CJS, which also includes the jury system. Those judges and juries are the same ones imprisoning those who fight back against police violence, disproportionately imprisoning people of colour, and upholding a system which protects capitalism, the rich and the powerful.
This week, two people are appearing at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court after locking-on to Elbit’s London HQ. Next week, people will be on trial at Bristol Magistrates’ Court for occupying the roof of Elbit’s Bristol premises.
In November, several much more serious cases are due to take place. The defendants are charged with causing thousands of pounds worth of criminal damage to company property.
Those in court are calling for support and solidarity.
Direct action continues
Meanwhile, the direct action campaign continues. On 3 October, Palestine Action wrote:
This morning, two vans were ploughed into the gates of the Shenstone UAV Engines factory, with six activists swiftly locked-on to the vans to prevent their removal as they obstruct all entrances to the factory.
Over the coming months, the state is hoping to criminalise and imprison those who’ve stood up in support of Palestine, in the hope of stamping out resistance. The people in court deserve our support. And the people in Palestine deserve our continued resistance.
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