Picture credit: Guy Smallman/Getty Images
Artillery Row

Time for action on Palestine Action

We have to take a tough line against aggressive sectarianism in Britain

In a surprise attack Hamas militants have broken into Israel, overrunning several areas and killing at least 150 Israelis. Most of those who appear to have been killed are civilians, with plentiful videos on social media sites showing Hamas militants indiscriminately executing any Israeli they find — civilian or other. Others show them desecrating corpses, including at least one female Israeli civilian, and taking Israeli civilians as prisoners.

In return Israel has declared itself at war, launching airstrikes which have killed 230 or more Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. A heady mix of cordite, blood and rumour is spreading across social media. While Israel is hardly a blameless participant in the long-running conflict, its own ill-behaviour bears no comparison to Hamas here: the bare-faced murder of civilians on the street, the taking of civilian hostages, and apparent rape.

Despite that, there have been plenty who have celebrated the actions of Hamas. In Baghdad buildings are decorated with the Palestinian flag. There are also celebrations in Turkey and Bahrain. That isn’t all though: there are celebrations in London too and in Berlin, where they handed out sweets to celebrate what Hamas was doing. Even in refugee camps, where they are waiting to get into Europe, there were celebrations. What fine neighbours they will make in future.

It would be nice to imagine this was just brute tribalism among their co-religionists. Yet there is also plenty of evidence that their Western allies are happy to play down the brutality of the crimes taking place. Take Double Down News, which within the last two months has featured Guardian columnists like Gary Younge and George Monbiot. DDN reacted by posting a video of activist Andrew Feinstein, asking why it isn’t “noble and right” for Palestinians to “defend themselves” if it is for the Ukrainians to do so. 

There was also Claudia Webbe, still the MP for Leicester East, albeit no longer for Labour, who wrote, “One side is the occupier. One side is the occupied.” Not to mention the former Labour MP for Derby Chris Williamson, who described Israeli civilians taken hostage as “Israeli militants and Zionist extremists”. Or Rivkah Brown, an editor at Novara Media, the Corbynista outriders happily platformed for years by the BBC, who wrote that “I believe oppressed people deserve to fight for freedom in the ways that they deem appropriate.” 

So there we have it: all that elevated  talk of universal human rights disappears when it’s one of the “bad people” who are being kidnapped, raped or murdered. 

There’s one group in Britain which deserves more attention: Palestine Action, an activist group launched in 2020 with a graffiti attack on the British headquarters of Elbit, an Israeli defence manufacturer who employ 680 people at sixteen different sites in Britain and are delivering a UAV programme for the British Army. They reacted to the Hamas attack by celebrating the success of the attack and pinning the blame for it on British colonialism. Since 2020 they’ve focused with effective dedication on shutting down Elbit.

They’ve been extremely successful too. In 2022, after being targeted 15 times, Elbit had to close their London head office. Palestine Action didn’t just go after Elbit either: the office was rented out by Jones Lang Lasalle, who were also targeted by Palestine Action. They happily describe how other Jones Land Lasalle sites were “routinely defaced, smashed and doused in the Palestine Action iconic red paint” in an effort to get them to “Evict Elbit”. 

Their other big success was in Oldham, where Elbit’s successful subsidiary Ferranti had to sell their factory after repeated occupations of the site by Palestine Action caused weeks of delay and “millions in damages”. One of their occupations was conducted in conjunction with Extinction Rebellion North, causing £20,000 worth of damages. Other occupations caused as much as £500,000 in damages.  Other Elbit subsidiaries, such as UAV Engines Ltd, in Shenstone, have also been targeted, with their activists “dismantling the premises”.

Other direct action attacks have taken place in Bristol, in Tamworth, in Birmingham, and in Liverpool. Their current focus is on Leicester however, where, since May 1st this year, they have been a permanent presence outside an Elbit factory there. They regularly post about the “siege” on social media, with the police seemingly incapable of removing them unless they try to rush the gates. As with their London operation, they’ve also begun targeting those who provide services to Elbit and their subsidiaries, recently bragging about “storming” iO Associates, who handle recruitment for them. They’ve made such a practice of it that they even offer a workshop on how to do it. 

Despite the violence and the damage caused to what appears to be an otherwise successful company, providing useful services to our armed forces and good jobs, Palestine Action’s activists rarely see the inside of a prison. Just this week one activist was found unanimously not guilty of criminal damage, despite Palestine Action admitting that £500,000 in damages was caused. His — apparently successful — defence was that his actions were legitimate as he was seeking to defend property and lives in Palestine. 

Even being found guilty, as four Palestine Action activists recently were, is no guarantee that you’ll serve time. Despite being stopped in a van on their way to an Elbit-linked factory with tools to be used to cause criminal damage, all four received suspended sentences. In some cases the authorities appear unwilling to even try them: the Crown Prosecution Service had initially dropped charges against two activists who blockaded the gates to a factory. Even when tried, the judge found them not guilty, citing the controversial DPP vs Ziegler decision to say that their actions were proportionate.

There are indications that … they are also becoming increasingly radical

There are indications that, as well as growing in size and capability, they are also becoming increasingly radical. They’ve begun to post communiques, in their words, from underground cells, taking responsibility for more dangerous forms of protest. This includes the “George Habash Brigade”, named after the leader of the PFLP terrorists group, who flew a drone into the Elbit factory in Leicester, and “Lynx Lair”, who located and attacked the car of a senior Elbit employee at his home address. It’s easy to imagine this escalating.

Critics this week attacked Home Secretary Suella Braverman for saying multiculturalism had failed in Britain. The reaction to the attack by Hamas only shows how correct she was: now we see how events in the Middle East have immediate effects in migrant diasporas in Britain and the West. Groups like Palestine Action are able to repeatedly break the law in support of foreign politics, with only a pathetic response from the British state. Until a tougher line is taken, we can expect sectarianism to keep on growing.

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