Extinction Rebellion, Palestinian rights activists blockade Israeli arms factory

Extinction Rebellion and Palestinian rights activists blockade UK factory owned by Israel's largest arms company
3 min read
01 February, 2021
XR activists and Palestine Action have teamed up in an effort to close a controversial Israeli arms factory in Oldham.
XR North and Palestine Action aare blockading the factory in Oldham [Getty]
Extinction Rebellion and Action Palestine have teamed up to blockade an Israeli arms factory in the North of England after the UK government handed the weapons' maker a multi-million-pound contract.

Activists from XR North are protesting alongside Palestine Action to shut down an Elbit Systems factory, based in Oldham, Greater Manchester, after the ministry of defence signed a £102 million contract for new "sensor to shoot" systems, earlier this month.

Since 2018, the British government has bought £45m worth of military equipment from the arms firm.

In the early hours of Monday, activists said they had scaled the Elbit-Ferranti factory in Oldham, blockaded the gates, and splattered red paint across the building.

Several protesters have taken to the roof of the factory, while others have barricaded the doors shut to prevent vehicles from entering the facilities.

Elbit Systems is owned by Israel's largest private arms company and the pressure groups say that the recent joint action sends a strong message that resistance is growing in the UK to Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The groups also condemned the UK government's deepening relationship with Elbit Systems, which produces surveillance technology for Israel's West Bank barrier - known as the "Apartheid Wall" - and around 85 per cent of the Israeli military's drone fleet, according to campaign groups.

"Both of our movements are fighting for system change against systems that allows arms and fossil fuels companies that push for profit over the lives of people," XR North activist Adam Haigh told The New Arab in an interview.

"Military and weapons manufacturing is one of the most ecologically disruptive industries in the entire world.

"This includes with people's lives, for example in the West Bank. These weapons are being used for the deaths of people.

Protesters plan to stay there as long as possible [Getty]
"If we don't protest now, we won't be able to protest when the pandemic comes to an end."

Haigh added that police have threatened protesters with arrests and fines, citing Covid-19 lockdown regulations.

"[The police are] issuing penalty notices. There is a risk for people coming out to support us, but local support has been coming in.

"We want to keep people safe, we've had tests, we're social distancing, we're wearing masks as much as possible."

Controversial history

The contract was announced by the government on 21 January and referred to an "investment in a high-end surveillance system which allows frontline soldiers to detect and engage enemy targets in seconds".

"This contract with Elbit Systems UK not only delivers the very latest in battlefield technology to our frontline soldiers, but also invests in the British defence industry, sustaining more than 500 jobs across the UK," Defence Procurement Minister Jeremy Quin said at the time.

Elbit Systems supplies some 85 per cent of the drones used by the Israeli military which are used in surveillance operations and attacks in Gaza, according to Corporate Watch.

Elbit's Hermes drones were one of the two main unpiloted aircraft used in the attacks in Gaza during Israel's 2009 Operation Cast Lead offensive, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, according to Human Rights Watch.

"The Hermes can stay aloft for up to 24 hours at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet and has an array of optical, infra-red, and laser sensors that allow the operator to identify and track targets as well as to guide munitions in flight," HRW said of the attacks.

"The Hermes carries two Spike-MR (medium range) missiles."

The New Arab has reached out to the Oldham factory for comment.

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