Damaging Property Justifiable to Save Palestinian Lives, Court Finds

Palestine Action wins again.

by Rivkah Brown

24 May 2024

a man flies a palestinian flag beside leicester crown court
Joe Irving flies a Palestine flag outside of Leicester crown court after being acquitted of criminal damage to an Israeli weapons factory, May 2024. Palestine Action

On Friday, Leicester crown court acquitted two Palestine Action activists accused of criminal damage to an Israeli weapons factory in 2021. The jury was persuaded by the defence’s argument that Joe Irving and Ferhat Ulusu’s actions were admissible on the basis of preventing harm to civilians and property in Palestine.

The 2021 action saw four Palestine Actionists occupy the rooftop of UAV Tactical Systems, a Leicester-based subsidiary of Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems. In a Novara Media article describing the action, one participant wrote: “My belief in the need to challenge the war crimes that Israel is committing far surpassed my own fears”.

The activists – who drank rainwater in order to extend the occupation to six days, and slimmed down the group to two halfway through in order to save food supplies – spray-painted slogans including “Shut Elbit Down” and “Free Palestine”, sprayed red paint on the building’s facade and damaged a skylight in order to expose a drone being manufactured inside.

The action was one of the less disruptive the group – which has been known to cause hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of property damage for Elbit – has undertaken. In court, Elbit Systems’ representatives claimed that installing additional security as a result of the action had cost the company £40,000 per month, £1.6m in total.

Palestine Action returned to the factory in May last year, staging a weeks-long siege involving over 250 activists. The action resulted in over 40 arrests, none of which have come to anything: in February, a court threw out a case against the activists involved. 

Of Friday’s court victory, Palestine Action co-founder Huda Ammori told Novara Media: “Elbit Systems makes a killing out of the destruction of Palestine and are operating on our doorsteps. This action and legal victory shows it’s not just a moral obligation to dismantle Israel’s weapons trade, but also a legal one.

“The jury understood this to be true and their verdict reflects society as a whole, who when given the choice prioritise Palestinian lives over Elbit’s weapons factories.”

Alongside environmentalist group Just Stop Oil, Palestine Action has become a focal point of the government’s crackdown on protest rights. In 2022, Israeli embassy officials met with staff in the attorney general’s office to lobby them to pursue Palestine Actionists.

Earlier this month, the government’s anti-protest tsar and former chair of Labour Friends of Israel John Woodcock, now Lord Walney, authored a 292-page report on the threat posed to the state by “extreme political protest”. The report mentioned Palestine Action 103 times.

Since its foundation in 2020, Palestine Action has distinguished itself through its willingness to take sustained, high-risk direct action against a small number of targets linked to Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest private weapons company.

The group has had remarkable success: in 2022, Elbit lost out on two UK government defence contracts worth an estimated £280m on the grounds that it was no longer a reliable supplier. It only recently won its first Ministry of Defence contract since, reportedly worth a mere £25,000. Its successes have inspired spin-offs in Europe and America.

The group has also drawn attention to the specific supply chains linking UK-based arms factories to Israel’s assault on Gaza: in a recent piece for Declassified, Ammori noted the Israel Defence Force’s use of Elbit’s Hermes 450 drone – similar to the one exposed by the activists in the Leicester siege – to monitor and drop missiles during the ongoing operation in Gaza.

Rivkah Brown is a commissioning editor and reporter at Novara Media.

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