On Friday, an east London court acquitted two Palestine Action (PA) activists currently on trial for actions against Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest private weapons company. The court issued a further 12 acquittals between the so-called Elbit Eight, as well as one conviction. The jury could not, however, decide on the large majority of the charges.
PA members Genevieve Scherer and Jocelyn Cooney were found innocent of all the offences they’d been charged with, while the group’s co-founder Richard Barnard was found guilty of criminal damage (Barnard has also been indicted on nine other charges). The jury’s indecision means that Barnard and his five remaining co-defendants may be retried in the new year.
Having refused a plea deal, the Elbit Eight – now Elbit Six – have been standing trial in east London since mid-November.
The 13 counts in their indictment, which include criminal damage and burglary, relate to direct actions taken by PA activists in the six months after the group’s founding in July 2020. In comparison to some of PA’s subsequent actions – among them a weeks-long siege of Elbit’s Oldham factory – these were relatively mild. While some of the charges relate to a rooftop occupation at Elbit subsidiary UAV Engines’ Shenstone factory, the majority are for spraying water-soluble paint on Elbit buildings.
For this, the Elbit Eight became the first in over a decade to be charged with conspiracy to blackmail – though the judge subsequently ordered the CPS to amend its indictment to remove this.
The judge also ruled out a number of defences PA had hoped to rely upon, including necessity and the preservation of life. In the end, the defendants were permitted only the consent defence.
This means that, had PA’s targets been aware of the atrocities facilitated by Elbit – which according to the Database of Israeli Military and Security Export supplies up to 85% of Israel’s land-based equipment and the same proportion of its drones – they would have agreed to what they argue were relatively innocuous actions. “Who wouldn’t unless they were a psychopath?” Stickels told the court.
In his testimony, Phillip Lappier, CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle and landlord of Elbit’s former London HQ, told the court that his company had not looked into Elbit’s activities, nor considered whether renting to the company might violate its human rights policy. After multiple actions at the site, Elbit abandoned its London HQ in June 2022.
Presenting their case to the court, the PA activists sought to explain why they had no choice but to act directly against Elbit. “All other attempts fell short,” said Ammori in a statement shared with Novara Media. “Our exports to Israel are against our own license rules and against international law, but they can’t be stopped by the courts.
“Divestment campaigns, after years of work, were taking way too long, it wasn’t matching the reality of the urgency of the situation. Every day, Palestinians were being killed, imprisoned – surveilled under these drones 24/7.
“If the government were refusing to listen to the facts of the situation, and kept violating their own rules, then the only option seemed to be direct action – to stop the weapons going there.”
In cross-examination, Ammori, who is half Iraqi and half Palestinian, was asked by the prosecution barrister if she knew “where Hamas gets their weapons from”.
PA’s ranks have swelled since Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on 7 October, with over 100 new recruits reported every day. The group’s trademark secondary and tertiary targeting, going after not only Elbit itself but also its suppliers and investors, has had marked success: in December alone, Elbit’s primary recruiters and property managers both dropped the company following sustained pressure from PA.
A new US chapter, launched in late October, has already taken several high-profile actions, for which some of its members are also currently standing trial.
Like a growing number of activist groups, PA does not flinch at the prospect of conviction, even imprisonment. “Facing prison pales into insignificance when compared to the genocide Israel is committing against the Palestinian people using Elbit’s weaponry,” Barnard told Electronic Intifada shortly before the trial began. “Whatever the state says, we know we did what was necessary and right.”
The partial verdict follows a global day of action against Elbit Systems called by Progressive International, a network of leftwing politicians, academics, activists and journalists from around the world. Speaking to Novara Media, the coordinator of the organisation’s secretariat Paweł Wargan said: “The genocidal war on Gaza has made crystal clear that the struggle of the Palestinian people is bound to all struggles for liberation by the threads of imperial domination.
“Palestine Action showed us that it is possible to resist imperialism from within. We called a global day of action because it is Elbit, not those who stand up to resist it, that is guilty.”