Taking on Goliath: How Palestine Action drove Elbit out
Equipped with blood-red paint, homemade stencils and a camera; we were ready to storm 77 Kingsway — the London Headquarters of Israel’s largest arms firm, Elbit Systems. All it took to get the door opened and gain access into Elbit’s prestigious office was a smile. We were in — paint was thrown all over the lobby, banners up, footage filmed — all done before security eventually tackled us out. But, before we departed, a promise was scribed on their wall: We will be back!
And back we came.
To build a movement strong enough to bring down all ten of Elbit’s sites in Britain, we had to be both disruptive and sustained. One-off actions weren’t going to cut it. Every minute we didn't act, was a minute for Elbit to make another killing. In order to defeat them, we had to bombard them.
We were up against a Goliath — a weapons manufacturer, established in 1966 with the specific purpose of arming Zionist militias to ethnically-cleanse the Palestinian people. Today, their business model relies on developing their experimental weapons on the captive population of Gaza, packaging them as “battle-tested” before shipping them off to Israel and other repressive regimes.
''Palestine Action only grew stronger, while Elbit’s sites were increasingly growing weaker. Israel’s largest arms dealer was forced to fork out increasing amounts on security, which incidentally, consistently failed to keep our activists out. Actions became more frequent, more disruptive, and for Elbit, considerably more expensive.''
By July 2020, Britain was home to ten Elbit sites manufacturing military drones, artillery and acquisition software.
Palestine Action was born out of a necessity to drive Israel’s arms trade out of the country. Not only did actions target Elbit’s sites, pressure was also applied to those who facilitated its ability to operate in Britain.
Israel could not manufacture its murderous supply chain of arms in isolation. For Elbit to have been granted a prestigious office space in Central London, it required a letting agent to turn a blind eye to Israel's war crimes — carnage that enabled Elbit to literally 'make a killing'. This is why JLL’s multi-billion-pound real estate enterprise became a nationwide focus for autonomous activists. From York to Brighton, JLL sites were regularly subjected to Palestine Action's iconic blood-red paint job.
With a secondary target, and an office block in Central London to systematically disrupt, a two-pronged strategy to kick Elbit out of London was quickly underway.
Just a few weeks after launching the campaign, Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs and their defence minister met with the British government to discuss "crushing our movement". They understood the power of direct action, and so did we.
A strategic campaign by the state to tear our movement apart during its early formation stages was initiated. Passports stolen by the police, homes raided and a series of violent arrests were not pleasant experiences, but they paled in comparison to those on the wrong side of Elbit’s weaponry.
Every obstacle we faced, was a step closer to defeating Israel’s arms trade. And, every time the state overstepped, more people took it upon themselves to join the fight to shut Elbit down. State tactics backfired.
Palestine Action only grew stronger, while Elbit’s sites were increasingly growing weaker. Israel’s largest arms dealer was forced to fork out increasing amounts on security, which incidentally, consistently failed to keep our activists out. Actions became more frequent, more disruptive, and for Elbit, considerably more expensive.
Over time, what started off as a prestigious building in Central London, turned into a downtrodden sad old state. They took down their overhang to prevent people from climbing on it; their outside ornaments were removed to stop activists knocking them over, and 24-hour security was hired to guard the entrance.
However, despite all their extra measures to keep Palestine Action away, for them it was a perpetual failure. We came, we stayed, and we shut them down again and again and again.
From April 2022, activists hammered the final nail in the coffin for Elbit’s London HQ. Week-after-week, we took it upon ourselves to disrupt 77 Kingsway by blockading the doors, spraying the building in blood-red paint and making sure the general public knew exactly who was hiding behind the door.
While Elbit was displeased with all the continuous actions at their headquarters, the surrounding community offered activists free coffee, food and regular messages of support. As the pressure built, for Elbit and their letting agents, the only option remaining, was for them to vacate.
And vacate they did! Just last week, it was announced Elbit Systems had abandoned their London Headquarters after Palestine Action's sustained direct-action campaign which saw 60 people arrested. The news came just 5 months after we permanently closed Elbit-Ferranti weapons factory in Oldham.
The proof is in the pudding: direct action gets the goods.
Lobbying governments, petitions and traditional campaigning tactics have always failed to stop the arms trade between Britain and Israel. Nothing however, can stop people taking it upon themselves to take down weapons sites on our doorsteps.
Huda Ammori is a co-founder of the direct action network Palestine Action and has conducted extensive research and campaigns targeting British complicity with Israeli apartheid.
Follow her on Twitter: @HudaAmmori
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.