This morning, pro-Palestine activists shut down an Israeli owned factory near Birmingham that provides components for Israeli military drones by climbing up on to its roof. Nine activists entered the factory, which is in Shenstone, Staffordshire, at 5AM. After locking the gates, they used ladders to climb onto the roof, and they say they're not gonna budge.
The factory that they occupied operates under the name UAV Engines, which is owned by Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons company and also the world’s number one manufacturer of drones. The engines exported from the factory go into Elbit’s Hermes 450 drone, which is the Israeli military’s primary armed drone. A Human Rights Watch report in 2009 found that the Hermes drone was responsible for the killing of Gazan civilians during operation Cast Lead.
I called up the activists, to ask what's going on. It turned out to be Ewa Jasiewicz, who VICE interviewed a couple of years ago when she climbed a power station to save the planet from climate change. We interviewed her again shortly afterwards when she was going through court because she was getting sued for climbing on the power station (the case was dropped eventually). I guess she just really loves climbing on things for social justice so I asked her why she found herself on this particular factory roof today.
VICE: Hi Ewa, how did you get in?
Ewa Jasiewicz: We came in at five in the morning using two step ladders. And we’ve got three tents up here and supplies to last us a week. There are nine of us and we’re not going anywhere.
It must have been pretty hard to occupy an arms factory – presumably its quite well locked down?
Well, we haven’t gone inside – we’re occupying the roof. But the factory itself is shut down – there hasn’t been anyone in or out of the gates.
Are the police trying to get you down?
At the moment there’s a cherry picker from the fire and rescue service and the police have been using it, which is pretty scandalous that the police and fire service are being used to protect private and corporate interests. We have D locks around our necks and have locked ourselves to a structure on the roof to stop the police removing us.
Ah yeah I think the Fire Brigades Union made a statement about that. What other tactics for not being removed do you have?
We have superglue, D locks and chains and arm tubes, which is where you link arms through a tube which means you have to be cut out.
Are the police trying to remove you right now?
There are police and fire service all around us on the road, and one fire truck within the factory compound. The police have shut down the road but no one has actually asked us to come down.
What do they make in the factory?
This is a factory that supplies components to Elbit Systems, this is the biggest Israeli drone manufacturer. And the Hermes 450 is described as the Israeli army’s workhorse and this is a drone that can be armed and has a proven track record of killing civilians in Gaza during operation Cast Lead in 2008 to 2009. The majority of deaths were actually cased by drone fire – about 550 people were killed by Israeli drones, so we are standing on a factory that is directly supplying weaponry to Israel to kill civilians – to kill children. It’s happening from the UK, from just outside Birmingham, and it needs to stop.
Are you worried that you might be arrested?
The worst they could do us for is probably aggravated trespass, which means that we’ve disrupted or obstructed a lawful activity, but our argument is that what’s happening here is this factory is deeply unlawful – it’s actually criminal. So, we see ourselves as supporting international law, which our governments do not support. Because if they were, they would not be allowing the sale of arms and military components to Israel.
What are your specific demands?
We’re demanding boycotting Israel until it complies with international law – until Israel withdraws from all occupied territories. We’re demanding that the UK government stops all export licenses for all weaponry to Israel. This factory is one of many in the UK which are exporting arms to Israel. The amount of military material exported to Israel has been estimated at £42 million per year. This country is deeply implicated against Israeli crimes against humanity committed in Gaza and the West Bank.
It’s the ten year anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the apartheid wall, which advised that it was illegal and that all relevant parties that are signatories to international law have a duty to dismantle that wall. And this government and all governments have done absolutely nothing to do that.
Okay. The UK government is reviewing its export licences, so I guess we'll see what happens. Is this sort of protest actually going to work?
Yes, occupations and direct actions against the Israeli arms and military machine are necessary and effective. But also action against supermarkets and department stores that sell goods which support the Israeli occupation such as Soda Stream, Ahava cosmetics, Kedem cosmetics, also Barclays bank which is the eight biggest shareholder in Elbit – action against high street targets that we can all go and take protest action against. This is what’s required: not tweeting or facebooking but actually backing up our words with deeds. More and more people need to take part in demanding boycott, divestment and sanctions. We need to up the ante. More people need to take part in direct action. It’s not enough to tweet in the face of genocide, we need to take direct action and we need to delegitimise Israeli impunity.
Did you hear about Baroness Warsi resigning as Minister for the Foreign Office this morning over the government's relationship with Israel? Do you think British politicians are taking what's going on in Gaza more seriously than they have before?
Well I would say that Baroness Warsi’s resignation is actually a sign of failure – a sign of failure of this government to abide by international law; a failure of this government to respect human rights. She’s so disgusted at that inertia, that passivity that she’s had to leave the government. That tells us that we can’t rely on our government and that we have to take matters into our own hands and do what we can to stop the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
Okay. Thanks Ewa.
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