Connecting the dots from Gaza to Grenfell

Connecting the dots from Gaza to Grenfell
5 min read
17 Jun, 2021
Opinion: The Arconic factory protest this week exposed the explicit links between systems of oppression - and solidarity - from Gaza to Grenfell, writes Malia Bouattia.
Activists 'occupied' Arconic in Birmingham on the anniversary of the Grenfell disaster [VX Pictures]

Earlier this week, as Palestine activists stormed the Arconic factory - the company that supplied the flammable cladding that was used to deck Grenfell Tower - onlookers didn't immediately understand the connection. The action, however, could not have been more timely.

Palestine Action attempted the shutdown of the company's site in Kitts Green, Birmingham on the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people. Activists barricaded doors, sprayed red paint on the factory's building and flew the Palestine flag from the roof.

In a statement, the organisers explained the connection between their solidarity efforts for Palestine, and with those who had been impacted by the Grenfell tragedy. Arconic's products were not only complicit in the Grenfell fire, but the company also supplies parts for Boeing Apache Helicopters and Lockheed Martin F-35 Fighter Jets, which have been used by Israel in their colonial violence against the Palestinian people.

Arconic's proximity to the UK's right-wing government adds another sordid layer to the story of the role it has played in the suffering of countless people at home and abroad. In December of last year, it was reported that Elliot Advisors UK, a major shareholder in the company, had donated close to £25,000 to Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.

"The fight for justice and accountability over those needlessly killed from West London to Gaza reaches directly to the corridors of power"

The fight for justice and accountability over those needlessly killed from West London to Gaza reaches directly to the corridors of power.

Many in the West Midlands showed their solidarity and came out on the streets of Birmingham to protest Israel's recent 11-day military onslaught on Gaza, and hundreds more joined the activists outside the factory in a direct show of support. This community presence was especially important in the face of aggressive police actions and arrests of members of Palestine Action, and protesters who had blockaded the road outside the factory helped prolong efforts to shut down the site. Even the local fire brigade, who refused to remove protesters taking action, put on a show of solidarity. 

Clearly, the momentum built during pro-Palestine actions in the region is not a one-time burst of anger. People recognise that injustice must be fought continuously and that this can only happen by applying direct pressure, even in the face of aggressive state repression. The show in solidarity also demonstrates that anger over international as well as local injustices does not disappear with a changing news cycle or the passing of time. Justice delayed is justice denied, as the slogan has it. 

The pandemic has caused so much unnecessary death and has highlighted existing injustices in so many ways, that people have been forced to look at the widespread systems of exclusion and oppression. The global nature of the crisis has shown that from the economy to security and healthcare, those issues don't stop at our borders.

The shared interests among the most powerful lead to the oppression, exploitation and harm of millions. This also means that we - from Palestine to Grenfell, and across the world - have shared enemies, and the past year has helped us connect the dots in terms of the struggles and violence that people face around the world.

"The past year has helped us connect the dots in terms of the struggles and violence that people face around the world"

In just the space of a year, we've seen Black Lives Matter mass protests last summer, rallies addressing police and gendered violence following the killing of Sarah Everard, demonstrations calling to #Killthebill in the face of our government proposing further state repression, and UK-wide opposition to Israel's attacks on Gaza by hundreds of thousands taking to the streets. The violence of the system is staring us all in the face, time and time again, and people are collectively learning the lesson that power concedes nothing without demand, to quote Frederik Douglass.

The challenge now is to channel the energy and consciousness which has matured in the last few years so that our future mobilisations are not only a response to tragedy after it strikes. We must take heed of the example of Palestine Action and their ability - despite the pandemic and its ongoing restrictions - to repeatedly shut down Elbit sites across the country.

In addition, their commitment to constantly work across coalitions, to build a more durable, visible bridge between struggles nationally and internationally even when they are small in numbers, is an important model for us all to follow.

If the same people who rule us and fail to fund and protect our healthcare system, cosy up and facilitate the actions of those who murder through neglect at home, while supporting and arming those who murder through colonial violence abroad - then we cannot be free without bringing them all down.

Our liberation is directly connected, materially, with that of the people of Palestine - and vice versa. The Palestine Action activists are paving the way, it is up to us to respond to their call or stand by in silence.   

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.