Putting down my pen and picking up the sledgehammer: fighting to end Israeli apartheid
My family were forced to flee their home in Palestine, migrated from Iraq, only to find ourselves living in a neighbouring British town to an Israeli weapons factory. Growing up in a northern town, I was oblivious to the extent of British complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime. Of course, as a British Arab, I was aware of the country’s devastating role in the imperialist invasion of Iraq, as well as their bias towards Israel, but my eyes were fully opened once I discovered that an Elbit arms manufacturer was operating just moments from where I lived.
Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer, literally make a killing by marketing their weapons as “battle-tested” on the Palestinian people. They provide 85% of Israel’s military drone fleet, used to surveil and strike Palestinians, all from behind a computer screen. Using Gaza as a laboratory, Elbit is able to sell on the weapons used to massacre and destroy communities in Palestine, to also destroy lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other oppressed communities across the world.
Many of us have been accustomed with the constant heartbreak endured when Israel indiscriminately massacres Palestinians, but less are aware that companies such as Elbit are using this as a business opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of their killing machines. In fact, during the most recent Israeli assault on Gaza, Israel’s military general boasted about working with Elbit on every strike conducted in May 2021.
"Through employing the tactic of direct action, we can take the power back into our own hands and break down those barriers in order to create a new reality."
Outraged by the most sickening of business models, a group of us knew we had to act. We employed every tactic that we had been told was necessary to create change in a supposed democratic society. Holding stalls and public meetings, conducting research, producing flyers, posters, petitions, yet we were constantly met with the same obstacle. The politicians gave empty statements, the local council ignored us, and Elbit unsurprisingly did not respond to our appeals. But, we ploughed on.
In 2017, equipped with just my voice and a placard, I went to protest outside Elbit’s Ferranti factory. Standing in front of the doors, just steps away from weapons which could have been used to kill more Palestinians, my frustration grew stronger. With just a pen in my hand, I tapped non-stop at the windows, hoping to cause just a minimal amount of disruption. This was to no effect, of course.
Years later, alongside like-minded activists, I co-launched Palestine Action, a direct-action network taking aim at Elbit Systems. With my friends and a ladder, I climbed onto the roof of Elbit’s factory in Shenstone. I put down the pen and picked up a sledgehammer. Smashing their windows, air conditioning units, and other equipment, we left Israel’s military production in Shenstone shattered. Our occupation lasted days, but the factory was shut for weeks. Needless to say, the sledgehammer was much more effective than the pen at stopping Israel’s arms production.
Admittedly, that was the point when I felt liberated, free from the chains and voices that say you must confine yourself into certain parameters when campaigning for Palestine. For those very parameters are set by a government which has been complicit in Israel’s apartheid regime for over 100 years.
Through the Balfour Declaration, issued in 2017 by the UK foreign secretary, Britain called for and condoned the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. And Britain’s position has not wavered since, granting Israel a free pass to implement apartheid whilst controlling its critics. This control manifests in a number of ways, including through the setting up of boundaries for our actions and rules that define and restrict our activism. And for too long, international solidarity organisations have disappointingly reinforced those barriers.
But through employing the tactic of direct action, we can take the power back into our own hands and break down those barriers in order to create a new reality. As the late David Graeber said: “Direct action is, ultimately, the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free”.
The Hermes 450 Drone was used in the killing of four Palestinian boys (aged 9-11) playing football on a Gaza beach in June 2014.— Lowkey (@Lowkey0nline) March 18, 2022
The engines for those drones were produced in this Leicester factory.
Now, the local community are shutting it down.
After a year and a half of sustained direct action by Palestine Action, matched with relentless community mobilisation against Elbit’s factory in Oldham, it was left with no choice but to sell off their lucrative murder making business in Oldham. They also made a massive loss in the process. The factory was sold for £9million despite having been bought for £15million over 10 years later.
Not only are Israel now losing their hold on weapons production in Britain, but they’re also taking a massive hit in the courts. Every Palestine Action activist taken to trial, has been acquitted by a British judge. To date, not a single activist in Palestine Action has been convicted.
Less than 50 activists were arrested at Elbit’s Oldham site over the course of the direct-action campaign. Some of them blockaded the gates, others climbed on to the roof, and some broke inside and destroyed Israel’s weapons of war. If we multiplied that number, it’d just be a matter of time before we get rid of the rest of Elbit’s nine remaining sites in Britain. And that time limit isn’t set by anyone but us. If we want to force Israel’s arms trade out, we can. It happened in Oldham, now it’s time to replicate that success across the country.
"If we want to force Israel’s arms trade out, we can. It happened in Oldham, now it’s time to replicate that success across the country."
Ultimately, as individuals and as a collective, we have reached a point where it is abundantly clear that the British government and others across the world cannot be reasoned with to take the appropriate action to sanction Israel’s apartheid regime. Every day we follow the line of the oppressor, the oppression of the Palestinian people deepens. When such injustice runs rampant for decades, it becomes a moral obligation to act with urgency.
If you see someone is being abused, most people would step in the way and try to stop it. Disrupting Israel’s cycle of violence by directly halting the manufacturing of their weapons on our doorsteps is following that exact same principle. Ultimately, we must all ask ourselves, when do we reach the point where we can no longer allow our siblings across the globe to be massacred in our names? When do we all put down our pens, and pick up a sledgehammer? As demonstrated in Oldham; when we do reclaim our power, we win.
Huda Ammori is a co-founder of the direct action network, Palestine Action and has conducted extensive research and campaigns targeting British complicity with Israeli apartheid.
Follow her on Twitter: @HudaAmmori
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