In the same week that two Palestine Activists were released from prison after a month on remand in Eastwood Park prison and HMP Bristol respectively, Palestine Action successfully and permanently closed down the HQ of Elbit in central London. May of this year saw an increased effort on the part of the direct-action group, to up their efforts on the offices opposite Holborn tube in central London. The group have been in existence for less than two years but have already managed to close the doors on Elbit’s head office and one of its largest factories in Oldham earlier this year. Elbit Systems supply the Israeli military with 85% of its killer drones, which are known to have been used by the IDF to kill children. They manufacture weapons, surveillance equipment, bullets and other materials used in Merkava tanks and aircraft including deadly, cutting-edge AI tech.
Palestine Action have specialised in often-audacious occupations of Elbit sites, its factories, and offices. The group have also targeted its landlords, JLL (Jones Lang Lasalle). They have utilised their human resources wisely and effectively. Considering the security that Elbit have been forced to employ, they are after all a security company with plants on RAF bases, this is quite a feat. The cost to Elbit is calculated in the millions. As few as three people have been known to evade security and close a site down for a day or more.
The first action on the Elbit HQ took place during the lockdown. Activists burst into the ground floor and upstairs offices. Before leaving they sprayed the walls with the words “we’ll be back”. True to their word, less than two years later with no fewer than fifteen more visits by PA, Elbit have been forced out. Last summer the ledge covering the heavily guarded entrance was occupied for a day before Elbit wisely removed it. The fire brigade was called but refused to remove the activists. Then in May this year, more recruits started locking-on in front of the main entrance. At its peak, there were as many as three actions a week taking place. It was becoming a regular spectacle for regulars at neighbouring Café Nero and Leon, which flank the rather anonymous, but massive security door at 77 Kingsway. On at least one occasion activists dressed as Café Nero workers to avoid detection but other creative tactics have been used including fake deliveries until security got wise to that.
Gamze who occupied the entrance twice in as many weeks eventually D-locking herself to a step ladder stopping business for a second time feels, “kind of surreal, exciting, even though there’s a lot still to be done, the wider issue with what’s happening in Palestine. This is the second time that we’ve proven that direct action works. Our strategy works, maybe [Elbit] should have a think, we are not going away. They are not about security. They are war criminals.”
The magnitude of this latest closure cannot be overstated. The Elbit war business is formidable. The biggest customer is actually the far-right Indian government which uses Elbit drones to target Kashmiris. They also export weapons which are used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. They now have contracts with the UK Ministry of Defence to surveil migrants seeking refuge in the UK and are trialling technology with the UK police force.
For all its victories, including in the courts, Palestine Action have paid the price in injuries, home raids and about 150 arrests as well as the recent imprisonment (on remand) of two Israeli dissidents who were part of a team that barricaded themselves into the Bristol offices, but the rewards have been unprecedented given the size of the group and the timescale they’ve been operating. Many in Palestine Action feel aligned to anarchist and anti-capitalist class politics in general but the group operate on a non-political basis, something which has served them well. They have a simple action agreement and a single mission: to close all Elbit operations in the UK – permanently. Volunteers are free to have different views. Likewise, activists have different motivations. They welcome anyone as long as they are not, according to their action agreement ‘a dickhead’. They operate on a semi-secret, need-to-know basis focused on action with few public talks. When they do occur, they are mostly for outreach and recruitment purposes. They have now expanded their network to Scotland with a crew taking action recently at the Thales factory. Elbit have subsidiaries all over Europe and of course, Palestine Action also have links in the global BDS movement and other anti-racist and anti-arms groups.
On the future, another member said, “As Elbit introduce more security we have to think about different ways of getting up there [on roofs] but so far we’re still managing it, we’ve started using vans and stuff. Security at the factories have been known to attack us and follow us up ladders. Our worry is that they might get hurt – as well as us! A few of us have already had falls and been on the receiving end of over-active security. It can seem like a challenge, outsmarting them, but we try and remember why we are doing it. It’s not a game, it’s solidarity with Palestinians, it’s about class oppression as much as anything else, fighting back.”
PA activists were amongst the first on the ground during the recent anti-raids stoppage in Peckham, as well as the anti-deportation flights action last week. There have also been several actions in conjunction with Extinction Rebellion, who’ve been a huge influence on the group. Miriam, a 23-year-old PA veteran and activist with numerous climate and anti-immigration groups said, “I see the links between anti-colonial and climate groups under the anti-oppression umbrella. There is a link between the disrespect of the ecology and people obviously. Capitalist oppression doesn’t differentiate. The first step of colonising is dehumanising and delegitimising the people or animals that can be exploited by then warmongers that can profit from that.”
The last action at Kingsway included two Palestinian activists whilst two Israeli comrades were still in prison, a beautiful symmetry of solidarity. All are currently free. So far so good.
If you’d like to take action with Palestine Action, join our workshop to find out more. Every Wednesday at 7:00pm use the link below:
Topic: Palestine Action Workshop: Direct Action & Arrest Prep.
Image by Guy Smallman