In a landmark case, eight Palestine Action activists who used direct action to shut down the Israeli weapons trade have been acquitted of a total 12 charges which included criminal damage, burglary and encouraging criminal damage. The trial, which commenced on 13 November, related to a series of actions taken during the first six months of Palestine Action’s existence from July 2020 to January 2021.
Palestine Action: a landmark legal case
Richard Barnard, co-founder of Palestine Action, was convicted by a 10-2 majority of one count of criminal damage, for an action at the now-closed Elbit Ferranti factory in Oldham. At least one member of jury later asked if they could change their verdict, but were prohibited from doing so. Lawyers will be considering appealing this conviction.
The jury failed to reach a majority decision regarding the remaining 23 charges. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have until 18 January 2024 to decide if they will retry on those counts due to political pressure. Two of the Elbit Eight, Genevieve Scherer and Jocelyn Cooney, were unanimously acquitted on all charges faced. If the trial returns, the #ElbitEight will instead be the #ElbitSix.
Exposing Elbit in the dock
Palestine Action said in a statement:
This trial has come at a time of intensive state monitoring, harassment, and prosecution of pro-Palestinian voices and actions – with Palestine Action having been operating under the pressure of the state since our inception. Our activists – hundreds of whom have faced arrest across the three years – have been jailed, held on remand, censored (both in the dock and with stringent bail conditions), have had their homes raided and been surveilled.
Activists have spent time in prison for convictions relating to against weapons and parts manufacturers Teledyne, APPH, and Israeli-owned Rafael, while dozens of others are currently awaiting trial. And we know that there has been Israeli interference in these cases – both through pressure applied by the Embassy onto the attorney general, and through top-level diplomatic meetings between Israeli and British government Ministers.
The public gallery was full on each day of the trial, with protestors assembled outside and daily mobilisations which saw musicians, choirs, supporters, and unions gather in support of Palestine and Palestine Action, along with visits from Defend Our Juries, and activists including rapper Lowkey and Colm Bryce of the Raytheon 9.
Palestine Action also offer our thanks and appreciation to CAGE and MPAC for their support throughout the trial. This case was intended to be the Crown’s flagship prosecution to bring down the activists who launched our movement. Having pursued these activists for over three years, and having initially brought draconian, overbearing charges, it will be a disappointing Christmas gift for the prosecutor Sally Hobson.
Palestine Action will greet a retrial as our activists greet every court appearance: another opportunity to expose Elbit in the dock, to prove to the British public that this company has no place in our country. Keep an eye out for an announcement of a scheduled date for the #ElbitSix trial – along with all upcoming cases.
Multiple Elbit sites targeted
The charges related to an occupation of Elbit Systems drone factories in Shenstone and Oldham, actions at its weaponry factory in Kent, Elbit’s London offices, and the offices of Elbit’s landlords, Jones Lang LaSalle. These actions were taken in order to challenge Elbit’s operations and presence in Britain, to prevent their manufacture of weapons bound for Israel.
The current, unrelenting genocide against Palestinians in Gaza has now martyred over 20,000 Palestinians. Even before the trial commenced, the Eight and all other Palestine Action activists had been vindicated: leaving the court having shown that Elbit is guilty, and that we have a moral and legal obligation to shut them down.
The Eight had originally been charged with counts including blackmail, conspiracy to commit criminal damage, and burglary.
The indictment was amended after the commencement of the trial, with the CPS eventually bringing 13 counts against the eight activists: seven counts of damaging property (criminal damage), three counts of burglary with intent to commit criminal damage, one count of possessing articles with intent to damage property, one count of threatening to damage property, and one count of encouraging others to commit the offence of criminal damage.
The lattermost charge, encouraging others, was introduced as a replacement charge for ‘blackmail’, after Huda Ammori and Barnard discussed direct action on a private Zoom meeting. The jury rejected this accusation.
Most Palestine Action legal defences ruled out
Prior to the trial beginning, the judge had ruled out various defences which, Palestine Action maintain, are directly relevant to the actions and the context of Palestine Action more widely.
The European Convention rights of freedom of expression (Article 10) and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11) were ruled out, on the basis that no protest that includes damage to private property can be considered ‘peaceful’. The defences of necessity and the preservation of life were immediately ruled out, while protection of property was ruled out after evidence was heard.
The defence argument therefore relied on consent – that, if those who owned the relevant buildings were aware of the heinous crimes which rely on Elbit products for their commission, they would consent to the Eight’s interventions.
“The duty of people is clear”
At the start of the trial, the Eight were offered a plea deal, if Ammori and Richard Barnard were to plead guilty, the others would be acquitted. All Eight defendants immediately rejected the deal, and spent the following six weeks in Snaresbrook Crown Court, pleading not guilty to all charges on the basis that Elbit and Israel are the guilty party, not Palestine Action.
Ammori commented that:
After pushing back our case for two years, the state have failed again to deter an ever-growing global direct-action movement. Everyday we’ve been on trial, more Palestinians have been massacred using Elbit’s weaponry. The duty of the people is clear – to take all direct action possible to Shut Elbit Down wherever you are. Justice will be complete when Palestine is free.
Featured image via Palestine Action