Activists standing in solidarity with Palestinians will attempt to shut down an Israeli arms factory in England next month, on the anniversary of Israel’s military operation ‘Protective Edge’, which caused ubiquitous destruction and huge loss of life in the Gaza strip last summer.
The ‘Block the factory’ action will reclaim the area surrounding the UAV Engines Ltd factory in Shenstone, near Birmingham, turning into a creative and positive space that meets the needs of justice and solidarity, and not the needs of Israeli multinational corporations that export death for profit.
In July last year, Israel launched a brutal seven-week assault on the Gaza strip, comprising of an aerial bombardment and land incursion. This attack on a densely populated territory killed over 2200 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, with over 500 children murdered and thousands more injured. Over 100,000 people have been left homeless.
Similarly devastating massacres have been carried out by Israel in Gaza on two other recent occasions – in 2008-2009 and 2012. UN reports found significant evidence of war crimes in these attacks including the use of white phosphorus- a chemical weapon, and the killing of unarmed civilians carrying white flags.
These periodic massacres are one manifestation of a racist system of occupation and colonisation in Palestine, which denies Palestinians all of their basic rights, ethnically cleanses them from their lands and livelihood’s, imprisons and kills thousands of Palestinians that choose to peacefully resist, and does so with complete impunity.
Anger and disbelief over last year’s massacre led to widespread and creative forms of resistance, a response to the Palestinian call for global solidarity and action. This took the form of mass demonstrations, occupations of government buildings and complicit businesses, and growing public pressure on governments and arms companies to stop arming Israel.
At the height of last year’s onslaught, nine activists occupied the roof of the UAV Engines Ltd factory in Shenstone, which is owned by the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. They shut down the drone engine factory for two days costing the company more than £180,000.
Though the latest round of violence has temporarily subsided, drones still patrol Gaza’s skies, emanating an incessant and anxiety inducing buzz, and casting shadows on the territory below, a disturbing reminder of both more violence to come and that Gaza is still under Israeli occupation. When they are not bombing, killing and maiming, the drones subject the 1.7million population to near constant surveillance.
Israel is the world’s second largest exporter of military drones with more than 1,000 sold to different countries around the globe. This is just one aspect of a formidable Israeli arms industry- the largest per capita arms exporter in the world. Its superiority in the industry is maintained by using Gaza, and to a lesser extent the West Bank, as a testing ground to develop cutting edge weaponry and military technology. These profits are then invested to further punish and repress Palestinian populations.
To give just one example of the extent of the industry’s reach, Elbit Systems is currently profiting from the accelerating militarisation of the US-Mexico border. It recently won a lucrative contract from the US Department of Homeland Security, thought to be worth $87m, and involving the production and maintenance of surveillance systems including high-tech observation posts along the border fence. These militarised zones have resulted in local indigenous communities, such as the Tohono O’odham, being subject to harassment and suspicion by border control police, including warrantless home invasions and control of movement via checkpoints. There has also been considerable environmental damage to the local landscape and wildlife.
It is hardly surprising that Elbit Systems is managing to get this type of work ahead of US companies. It certainly has no shortage of experience when it comes to providing the cutting-edge in repressive surveillance technology. The company is a major supplier of the surveillance technology used at the Israeli Separation Wall, which exists in contravention of international law and stretches for hundreds of miles, dividing families and confiscating large swathes of fertile Palestinian land as it goes. When completed, over 9% of the Palestinian West Bank will have been stolen as a direct result of its construction. This land will exist on the Israeli side of the Wall, along with approximately 27,000 Palestinians, who will require permits to live in their homes and will have to pass through militarised gates to reach their communities. This is already reality for many thousands of Palestinians.
On July 6 this year, solidarity activists from different groups and networks will be coming together and returning to the Shenstone factory to take a stand against the Israeli arms trade and its profiteering from injustice in Palestine and elsewhere. The organisers want to build on the incredible response to the attack last summer, which brought together a huge variety of activist groups in solidarity with Palestine and powerfully demonstrated how different struggles intersect.
‘Block the factory’ aims to turn the space around the factory into a fun, creative and inspiring place, rather than one associated with death, destruction, and injustice. Whether it’s by telling stories or holding workshops, making art or flying kites (not drones), playing music or sharing food together, it will be a space for activists to build support networks, find new allies and make new friends.
This mass action is part of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) and the Stop Arming Israel Campaign, which call on the UK to end its extensive collaboration with the Israeli weapons industry and to institute a two-way arms embargo. Many groups are involved in the day so far, including:
Boycott Israel Network, NUS Black Students’ Campaign, West Midlands PSC, Drone Campaign Network, Coventry Friends of Palestine, Smash EDO, Manchester Palestine Action, Glasgow Palestine Action, Campaign Against Arms Trade, Stop The Arms Fair coalition, War on Want, and London Palestine Action
The organisers want to make this an inclusive and family friendly affair, believing that diversity makes us better and stronger. So, whether you have never been on a protest before or are a seasoned activist, whether you are disabled, an older person, a younger person, whether you have five children or none, you are encouraged to come and help make this the biggest, most beautiful action yet at an arms factory in the UK.
Better still, there are ways to get yourself or your group actively involved. That could be running a workshop or a creative space, playing music or organising food, or even creating an activity session for children. The organisers stress that the action is what people make it, and welcome ideas and input.
See you at the factory…