#StopArmingIsrael: Activists close down UK Israel weapons factory
On the third anniversary of Israel's 2014 assault on Gaza, British activists launched the world's first "Stop Arming Israel" week.
The devastation of the three wars Gaza has experienced since 2008, along with the siege imposed by Israel and Egypt, has left Gazans in a position where their city will be uninhabitable in less than three years - something that neither the Palestinian diaspora, nor Palestine supporters are willing to forget.
One of the activists' "proudest moments" of the week was closing the Israeli Elbit Systems-owned drone factory at Shenstone, north of Birmingham, for two full days.
Five arrests were made, although the protests were "peaceful and non-violent", activists said.
"It was amazing, people of all backgrounds and ages came to support and help close the factory. It was amazing to see so many people of all different types of backgrounds come to support the Palestinian cause," Huda Ammori, a Palestine solidarity activist told The New Arab.
"We were unable to speak to factory workers because we were tied up. They also avoided us - I assume they were instructed not to talk to us, but we still managed to spread the message because they were listening," she added.
She said the factory manager had not spoken to them.
An Elbit Systems representative also refused to comment for this story.
|When you make profit from selling weapons for use on a civilian population, like those in Gaza, you are complicit in the carnage and mass murder that takes place there|
Names of the children who died during the 2014 Gaza offensive - in which more than 1,400 Palestinians and around 70 Israelis, including five civilians, were killed - were written on ribbons tied onto the factory gates. Palestine flags were flying all around, and the activists built coffins featuring photos of each child killed in the war. They were displayed for workers and passersby to see.
"When you make profit from selling weapons for use on a civilian population, like those in Gaza, you are complicit in the carnage and mass murder that takes place there," said activist Adie Mormech.
"Palestinians are being violently forced off their land, regularly bombed and those that remain are treated - according to Archbishop Desmond Tutu - worse than the blacks in South Africa were under Apartheid rule," added Mormech.
"Yet these UK factories are profiting from selling these weapons that we know are killing so many children, and helping to set the Middle East ablaze."
Oblivious to oppression
A nearby factory - owned by someone else and with nothing to do with weapons manufacturing - was caught up in the protest; its gates blockaded by the activists. They only realised when the factory owner began shouting at them to re-open his facility.
Ammori says the neighbouring factory owner offered his solidarity once they had explained their protest, who went on to say he would write to their shared landlord to express his concern that his neighbours were manufacturing weapons used to break international law, and collectively punish and massacre civilians.
"We also did this for the workers," Ammori added.
"One time, we were in Oldham town centre, raising awareness of the crimes committed by the weapons Elbit manufacture. An elderly lady approached us and told her she worked there manufacturing shells for years, without knowing where they were going to or how they were being used. At that point, all we could do was comfort her and tell her it wasn't her fault, but we knew we had a duty to raise awareness to make sure other workers know.
"If the manufacturers won't be transparent with their employees, we will be transparent for them."
|There's no logical counter-argument to closing a weapons factory, especially one that supplies weapons to a military that violates international law|
The protest passed off without any counter-demonstrations - unlike a previous action outside an HSBC branch in Manchester, where they said the bank held accounts of several global weapons makers.
Pro-Israel demonstrators shouted abuse at them and accused them of lying. "They would point at the photos of the children on the coffin and claim that the children had died in Afghanistan or Syria. At one point, some stomped on the coffins," an activist who wished to remain anonymous said.
But the arms factory action received no such intimidation.
"I think that was because we were at a weapons factory. There's no logical counter-argument to closing a weapons factory, especially one that supplies weapons to a military that violates international law," Huda said.
With their success, the activists say they will continue their campaign to stop arming Israel, with aspirations as high as making "Stop Arming Israel Week" as popular as "Israel Apartheid Week".
"Binyamin Netanyahu has violated international law and has not spent a second in a prison cell because of that. If the UK government won't help uphold international law by allowing these factories to operate on British soil, we will continue to lobby and raise awareness until something is done," Huda says.
The passion coming from the activists, and the need to ensure no more weapons are being sent to such a volatile region, especially to a government that has already violated international law, is a strong sign that they will not stop.