Activists shut down three UK-based factories owned by Israeli defence firm Elbit Systems on July 6, the one-year anniversary of the launch of Israel’s assault on Gaza. The companies are known for building weapons that activists say were used to commit war crimes in Gaza… and authorities seem hesitant to deny it.

Last year, in summer 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge—a campaign involving both bombing and ground fighting in Gaza—as Hamas fired sporadic rockets at Israel. Over 2,000 people died in the conflict, most of them Palestinian civilians. Almost 500 of the dead were children.

There are numerous factories in Britain owned by Israeli defence giant Elbit Systems. Since 2005, the British army has used a system manufactured by Elbit for its Watchkeeper drone programme. Yet activists allege that some of the components built in these factories on British soil are shipped to Israel, where they may be used in weapons that target the Occupied Territory.

Activists decided they needed to turn to direct action in order to get the word out in what they call “Britain’s complicity” in war crimes.

On the one-year anniversary of the Gaza assault, a coalition of activists from both pro-Palestinian groups and anti-arms trade came together to wreck havoc on Elbit subsidiaries in the UK. They closed three factories in Britain while fellow activists closed another in Melbourne, Australia.

Activists gather outside the Instro Precision factory. In the background, you can see the activists on the roof of the building.

“Instro Precision specializes in targeting equipment. In Gaza, targets are human beings”

FRANCE 24 spoke to Emma, an activist with the East Kent Campaign against the Arms Trade, while she was still on top of the roof at Instro Precision in Broadstairs, Kent, with three other activists.

It’s fairly quiet up here. We’re sitting in the blazing sunshine and we’ve been here since very early in the morning [Editor’s note: Ramsgate police told FRANCE 24 they were alerted to the activists’ presence at 4:20am].

The view is inspiring. We’re looking down on fellow protestors and we can see the white ribbons they hung up, each marked with the name and age of a victim of the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Activists hung write ribbons inscribed with the names and ages of Palestinian victims who died in Israeli airstrikes during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. 

We’ve also been writing victims’ names on white ribbons and tying them up here. It’s an incredibly moving thing to do. I found myself writing the names of entire families, from the 4-month-old-baby to the grandparents. You can only imagine how they all died—presumably the entire building was devastated [Editor’s note: Israeli airstrikes in 2014 brought down several apartment buildings]. It brings home why we are here.

Activists on the roof of Instro Precision hung up ribbons with the name of Palestinian victims of the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014.

“We believe in direct action”

It all started in August 2014, at the peak of the Gaza attacks, when nine activists occupied one of the other Elbit-owned factories [Editor’s note: UAV Engines Ltd, a drone engine factory owned by Elbit Systems, in Shenstone, Staffordshire. Activists returned to this site to hold a protest July 6, 2015 as well].

We launched our group, the East Kent Campaign against the Arms Trade, shortly after the Gaza attacks last summer. We wanted to do more than just troop up to London to protest every once and awhile. We believe in direct action, especially as a way to get people to pay attention. So, we researched and discovered that there are four or five Elbit-owned companies in our area alone [Editor’s note: Elbit Systems is a large Israeli defence electronics company]. I was absolutely astonished.

Instro Precision Ltd, where we are, is a subsidiary of Elbit that specializes in targeting equipment. If you take that out of neutral language, you realize targets in Gaza are human beings.

“It was the first time I had gotten on a roof, but it was a way to get media attention”

Originally, we were going to launch a copycat movement in support of the activists, but all charges against them were dropped. We decided to carry out our action anyway and we shut down the Instro Precision factory for one day in February. It was the first time I had gotten on a roof—but it was a way to get media attention and to affect the company directly by forcing it to shut and lose money.

The crazy thing in February was that police didn’t even question us. At the end of the day, they just let us drive away. The same thing happened today. No one was arrested—not even the bravest of all of us, an activist who chained himself to the front gate. Honestly, if the factory wanted to open, they could have brought in a locksmith and cut off the guy’s chains. But instead, they obviously contacted the workers and told them not to come in. I say that because we didn’t even see cars come and then turn around. My guess is that they didn’t want workers to see all of the posters we had hung up about Gaza. And they didn’t want trouble with us because the publicity isn’t worth it. [Editor’s note: The local police told FRANCE 24 that “our role was to facilitate peaceful protest whilst ensuring business activity.” They implied it was Instro Precision’s decision to close for the day.]

To us, it seems like Elbit and Instro really don’t want this in court.

The activists at the Instro Precision factory left the premises around 5:55pm on July 6, according to police reports, and the factory reopened the next day.

While no activists were arrested in Broadstairs, the BBC reported 19 arrests in Shenstone. When contacted by FRANCE 24, both Instro Precision and Elbit Systems declined to comment.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Brenna Daldorph (@brennad87)