Two rooftop protests and no arrests. East Kent CAAT reports on the campaign against Israeli arms manufacturer Eblit System’s factory in Broadstairs, and asks: just what does Elbit have to hide?
Last year, we found out that we had an Elbit factory on our doorstep – Instro Precision, based in Broadstairs. This year we shut it down – twice. Both times, we put four people on the roof, D-locked a neck to the main gates, draped banners down the building, turned away deliveries, leafletted the local population and alerted media outlets. The workers were told to keep away for the day – both days.
In February, they tolerated the bad publicity and loss of business. Not one of the protesters was arrested. We wondered why: it is hardly usual for blockaders to be allowed to shut a factory down.
So we thought we’d see how much Elbit and the police would tolerate.
Stepping up the action
The next shut-down was on July 6th, and coincided with the Block the Factory day of action at a different Elbit factory in Shenstone (UAV Engines). On that day, Elbit’s factories in Broadstairs (Instro), Shenstone, Tamworth and Melbourne, Australia were all shut down. Four factories in a single day.
The second time, we put protesters on the roof and gates (again), and also inside the perimeter of the fence. We tied white ribbons in their hundreds to the gates and roof, each one inscribed with the name of a Gazan killed in last year’s massacre. And we left a painted message on the building – which was still there when the workers returned to work on the following day.
Still the police held back. At the end of the day, when we came down from the roof, we were told that ‘on the orders of the Chief Superintendent’, there would be no arrests. Again. True, they asked for names and addresses ‘because criminal damage had been committed’. But they did not insist. So we went home.
What is Elbit hiding?
Instro-Elbit has put up with two occupations, two days of lost business, criminal damage to the building and hours of untying white ribbons – in the space of just 6 months. Instro-Elbit still does not appear to want protestors to face charges.
Elbit itself has had to put up with more: we estimate that the cost of protests in the last 12 months – at various different factories – must have exceeded half a million pounds. Last summer, a memo from the manager of UAV Engines revealed that two days’ lost production as a result of the rooftop occupation amounted to £186,000. There have been about 4 more days lost since then.
Remember that last year, protestors at the Shenstone factory were charged, but the case was later dropped because the company refused to disclose information relating to export licences which had been requested by the defence. It will be interesting to see if the prosecutions against protesters other than at Instro are allowed to go ahead: so far, we are the only group which has been allowed to shut the factory down without even initial charges being brought against us.
It seems clear that at least for Instro, the policy is for the company to avoid having to come before the courts. We want to know why. In particular, we want to see Instro’s export licences for Israel: did these include some of the 12 identified by the Government last year as posing a risk of being ‘used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law’? Three of the licences identified were for ‘targeting equipment’, which is just what Instro makes.
Last week, the Government decided that after all, the risk of violating international law was not important; or that there was no risk, despite what they first thought. We’re certain that all arms exports to Israel are a risk, a violation, and a vile crime against the Palestinians. So we’ll be back at Instro, to find out whether the Government and the company are prepared to put their case before the courts.