UK

Interview: Why we shut down Elbit in Oldham

19 May 2021
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Georg Ismael from our sister organisation Gruppe Arbeiterinnenmacht interviewed Stavit Sinai, an Israeli activist with direct action group Palestine Action.

Palestine Action is a UK based direct action network fighting for an end to UK complicity with Israeli Apartheid and stopping its cooperation with Israel’s war industry and economy. Recent activities have targeted Elbit Systems Ltd, an Israeli armaments and high tech company.

In response to the bombardment of Gaza, Palestine Action blockaded an Elbit factory in Oldham and occupied Elbit’s UAV Tactical Systems factory in Leicester, with the aim of stopping production, raising awareness and encouraging collective action such as seen with the Italian dock workers in Livorno. The League for the Fifth International fully supports these actions. We call on workers and left organisations to join and support such efforts.

Georg Ismael: On 12th May you were present when Palestine Action targeted Elbit in Oldham. What did you hope to achieve?

Stavit Sinai: There is an immediate urgency to stop the deadly production in the Ferranti facility in Oldham. The lives of people in the Gaza ghetto imminently depend on the destruction of Elbits and other such companies production capacities. Our main goal in taking action was to disable Elbits factory of death. However, raising awareness to their criminal endeavours, as well as highlighting the UK governments and UK’s arms industries complicity in those crimes is equally important. We aspire to entirely remove Elbit Systems from the UK.

Why did you personally decide to take action?

Being a privileged Israeli, I couldn’t just stand by as the bombs are dropping over Gaza. I might face trial because of my actions. But if I don’t act, the lives of the Palestinian people in Gaza, the West bank and Palestine ’48 would remain in grave danger. I hope that more people will join us and break their silence. This particularly counts for Israelis, whose silence is direct support for Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity.

What is it that makes Elbit such an important target of your actions?

Elbit is Israel’s largest privately-owned arms company, making a profit from Israel’s attacks on Palestinian people. Its biggest single customer is the Israeli Ministry of Defence (IMOD) and as such it constitutes one of the biggest weapon manufacturers in the world.

But beyond this, Elbit Systems has a massive international reach. It sells 80% of its equipment outside Israel. Therefore it endangers not just to the lives of Palestinians, but threatens the integrity of mankind.

Can you tell us more about Elbits activities in the UK and what it “provides“?

Elbit has ten sites across the UK, including 4 arms factories. It provides the Israeli military with around 85% of its killer drones. These drones terrorise the people of Gaza. The Israeli army uses them in daily surveillance and regular attacks. Elbit produces munitions and components for all Israeli attack aircraft, too. And Israeli F-16 fighter jets, as well as Apache and Cobra attack-helicopters are all furnished with Elbit equipment. They have repeatedly been used to attack civilian areas, homes and refugee camps, resulting in thousands of casualties in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. Many of the houses currently brought down in Gaza, are most likely doing so with Elbit weaponry.

But Elbit does not just bring down buildings, it also creates walls. Thus, it is one of the main providers of the electronic detection fence system for the West Bank apartheid wall. Recently, it was  contracted to create the new underground wall around the blockaded Gaza Strip, making it even more difficult to import food or cement to rebuild what has been destroyed.

In 2018, Elbit purchased IMI Systems, the IOF’s sole supplier of small calibre ammunition. So not only are the drones in the skies made by Elbit, the bullets being shot by Israeli snipers are also made by the company. IMI Systems is known for producing cluster munitions, and because of this, companies have divested from Elbit.

However, the company’s profits skyrocketed after its equipment was used in the brutal 2014 assault on Gaza, helping the country to seal contracts with militaries all over the world. This is one of the reasons the armament industry and governments in the UK, Germany and elsewhere want to cooperate with Elbit. They want their hands on the means of destruction of the 21st century, which have been tested and demonstrated to the world through the continuous slaughter of Palestinians.(1)

Has the response you were hoping to achieve realised?

We are happy for a growing interest and positive reactions. But of course we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until we achieve an absolute shut down of Elbit Systems and the end of the inhumane bombardments of civilians including in Gaza, which have lead to the deaths of hundreds of people including children and babies in the last ten days alone.

There was to be a trial against Palestine Action for an earlier action against Elbit in the UK. The trial has been postponed. Why is that?

A trial would provide a wonderful opportunity to expose Elbit’s death factory and Israel’s crimes against humanity, and would pose a serious reputational damage to the sinister endeavour that is Elbit Systems. The UK government knows this. That’s why the trial is postponed.

What can UK workers do to support your cause?

Oldham, where we’ve taken action, has a history of a working class struggle. During the abolition movement workers in Oldham organized collective resistance against slavery. They refused to process cotton that was picked up by African slaves. We would want workers to remember this history and transform it into action today. There is a direct link between an economic boycott of Israel and resisting apartheid in all its forms.

How would that look practically?

Practically, this should mean that the trade unions in the UK carry out with all vigour their decision to support BDS practically. They should follow the example of the Italian dock workers, they should organise pickets in front of companies like Elbit, and they should organise protests, even political strikes to force the UK government to seize its support for the Israeli state. It can be done. The hundreds of thousands protesting on the UK’s streets show that many people agree. Now it’s time for the unions to take actions based on their previous political decisions.

But often this necessitates some pressure, right?

It also necessitates an example that people can follow. Last night Palestine Action occupied the Elbit site in Leicester. In the morning the fire brigade was called in to assist the police in clearing the site. Finally, the Leicester Fire Brigade Union stepped in and called on the Fire Brigade workers to withdraw. Outside the factory dozens local citizens had assembled to show their support.

Is this possible in Germany, too? After all there has been a long tradition of left activists targeting military industries like Krupp or Thyssen.

It’s not impossible. But in Germany it is more difficult given the blind German support of Israeli colonization and apartheid. So this has to change. In fact, it’s no coincidence that Elbit Systems is situated near the Bundestag. Elbit Systems works under the patronage of the German state. For example, the same drones that are murdering in Gaza have been ordered by the German Bundestag in order to protect FORTRESS EUROPE from refugees. There are symbiotic relationship between Elbit Systems and the German authorities. Such an irony of history that the racist Israeli state today provides weapons to Germany.

Interview by Georg Ismail of our sister organisation Workers Power Germany with Dr Stavit Sinai of Palestine Action. Originally published at arbeiterinnenmacht.de

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