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Palestine Action on the Elbit headquarters, Bristol
Courtesy of Palestine Action

Palestine Action on shutting down an Israeli arms company’s Bristol HQ

The direct action group scaled Elbit Systems’ offices to halt the company’s UK operations and defy the country’s ‘ongoing complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime’

Earlier this week (November 2), members of the direct action network Palestine Action scaled the Bristol-based headquarters of the Israeli arms company Elbit Systems and daubed the offices in blood red paint, halting operations at the site to mark the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

Issued in 1917 by Arthur James Balfour (then the British foreign secretary), the Balfour Declaration announced support for establishing “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, essentially signing away Palestinian land in favour of the small minority Jewish population. This statement paved the way for the Zionist movement’s violent occupation of the region that continues to this day, with Israeli authorities forcibly dispossessing Palestinian families from their homes and launching deadly attacks on Gaza.

Britain remains complicit in this violence, Palestine Action suggests, by allowing companies such as Elbit to manufacture their “murderous products” in its towns and cities. “The targeting of Elbit Systems’ HQ offices in Bristol marks another instance of defiance (against) Britain’s ongoing complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime, and Elbit Systems' crimes against the Palestinian people,” the group tells Dazed.

Arriving at the Elbit offices around 6am on Tuesday morning, three activists managed to climb the building despite a rapid police response. Others used fire extinguishers to cover the offices in red paint — signifying “the Palestinian bloodshed from which Elbit profits” — before evading the police.

“The purpose of taking direct action against Elbit’s HQ is that it furthers two strategic goals,” Palestine Action says. “Firstly, it directly halts and disrupts Elbit’s operations in this country, following the same strategy we have pursued over the past year of making a material stand against Israeli apartheid.” Secondly, the group adds: “It raises awareness of the government’s ongoing complicity in crimes committed against the Palestinian people by Elbit and the state of Israel.”

This week’s Bristol action is just the latest in a series of demonstrations against Elbit by Palestine Action. Since its launch in July 2020, the network has blockaded sites, sprayed them with graffiti, occupied rooftops, and generally disrupted the company’s arms production.

These sporadic acts follow precedents such as a 2006 protest in Derry, which saw nine activists smash up the infrastructure of a Raytheon plant in response to Israel’s bombing of Lebanon. This protest was considered an overwhelming success: the ‘Raytheon 9’ were later found not guilty in court, and the plant subsequently closed down and left Derry.

“It is our belief that when we act to disrupt and dismantle Elbit Systems, we are in fact upholding international law and the law of necessity,” says Palestine Action, citing “the illegality of the purposes for which Elbit's products are deployed — war crimes and ethnic cleansing”.

Three female activists were winched off the roof and arrested following Tuesday’s action at the Elbit headquarters in Bristol. As of writing, two have been released with no criminal charges, while one remains in police custody. So far, none of the activists who have taken part in Palestine Action protests have ever faced a trial. 

“Often, these cases are dropped when requests for disclosure by Elbit and other complicit companies are made, or most of the time, charges are not brought in the first place,” the group explains. Some activists were due to face a Crown Court trial in May 2021, for allegedly causing over £30,000 in damages and over £450,000 in losses to the company, but it was adjourned by over a year just a few days prior.

“We believe Elbit do not want information on their dealings and production exposed in a court room and to the public, and that in a trial by jury situation, we have a solid chance of winning these cases based on the law.”

Besides physically disrupting the arms company’s sites and manufacturing, Palestine Action offers regular workshops on the theory of direct action, how to deal with being arrested, creative ways to build the movement, and more. These workshops can be found here.