By Naila Ahmed, Head of Campaigns at CAGE International
You may be unaware that currently eight people are standing trial for shutting down an Israeli weapons factory, amongst other actions. Over the course of the last few weeks I have managed to attend some of their hearings at Snaresbrook Crown court. For the duration of that time, the courtroom was packed as the defendants, known as the Elbit Eight, gave evidence about why they took action for Palestine, Israeli war crimes and Elbit Systems’ participation in those crimes.
Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer: Elbit Systems
Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer, profiting off the genocide of Palestinians and markets their drones and weapons as “battle tested”, they trial these weapons on civilians in Gaza before mass producing them. Elbit Systems supplies up to 85% of the Israeli military’s drones and land based equipment. These weapons are produced here in the UK by Elbit Systems’ factories across the country. In the last few weeks alone Israel has murdered over 20,000 Palestinians, and destroyed hospitals, schools, homes and the entire infrastructure in Gaza - using weapons produced by Elbit Systems. One of the main witnesses from Elbit, their chief of security, was due to give evidence for the prosecution at the trial, but Israel refused to let him travel or even give evidence remotely, despite him being a crucial witness for the prosecution.
The Elbit Eight have been on trial since November 13th 2023,two of them are founders of Palestine Action. They are all on trial for direct action they have taken against Elbit Systems in the first 6 months of Palestine Action’s work, from July 2020. Direct action is a form of protest that seeks to shut down and disrupt. For the Elbit Eight this included protesting inside Elbit Systems offices, spraying red paint to signify Palestinian blood, and shutting down weapons factories by blocking entrances and locking themselves to the building so they cannot be moved and weapons supply is halted. The charges against these actionists are politically motivated and there’s even evidence of Israel’s involvement in them being charged.
Choose Courage for Palestine
I’ve been listening to testimony from the #ElbitEight, and reflecting on the actions they took and why they took them. One thing that stood out to me most was that these actionists chose courage for Palestine. They didn’t let the fear of prison or prosecution stop them from using their voices and their bodies to prevent weapons being sent to kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine.
In each testimony given by the eight actionists, they stated their moral and legal obligation to stop an apartheid regime, to prevent the genocide of the Palestinian people, and to shut Elbit down. Many of them testified to the numerous ways they engaged in the system prior to taking direct action, whether that be writing to MPs or other forms of traditional campaigning, all of which amounted to nothing. One actionist said that they wished direct action wasn’t necessary, that our government would just sanction Israel and stop arming them. But that isn’t a reality. Britain is responsible not only in the creation of the Zionist state but also in the continuous arming of this apartheid regime. So the obligation is upon us to take action in order to stop arming Israel.
As the state seeks to protect institutions and warmongers at every level, taking action to shut down the flow of weapons to the occupation becomes the most moral action we can take. There’s a moral duty to prevent the genocide of an entire people. The state seeks to criminalise such principled actions by arresting, charging and in some cases imprisoning those who take action.
With courage comes risk
All of the actionists that work with Palestine Action are the same. They choose courage and compassion over all else. They take actions knowing there is inherent risk - risk to their livelihood, to their liberty, but the moral obligation to act and prevent harm overrides the concern for their personal lives.
I have been privileged to work alongside the Elbit Eight and many other activists in the run up to this trial. One of my colleagues at CAGE also took action previously and won her case last year by a unanimous not guilty verdict. The acts of courage she took, could have cost her a career as a barrister, but it was a material risk she was willing to take in the defence of the Palestinians and to prevent harm from reaching them.
Over the last 3 years, Palestine Action have been highly effective in their campaigning and direct action against Israeli arms manufacturers, in particular Elbit Systems. Their stated aim is to shut Elbit down, and this has galvanised across the country, and across the globe as you see people taking direct action to stop weapons being sent to Israel. Palestine Action in the UK have been successful in:
- Costing Elbit over £280m in lost contracts,
- Shutting down Elbit’s offices in central London,
- Forcing the permanent closure of two of Elibit’s weapon factories,
- Just this month, getting their sole recruiter in the U.K., iO Associates, to stop working with Elbit,
- Getting the property managers of Elbit's drone factory in Shenstone (UAV Engines), Fisher German, to cut all ties with Elbit Systems
These successes have inspired the launch of Palestine Action US and Italy who have already taken a series of effective actions.
“Let him change it with his hand”
When I see those actionists taking direct action to stop Israeli weapons from being manufactured here in the U.K., I am reminded of the often repeated Hadith of the Prophet (ﷺ) - one we may cite often, but how often do we implement it?
“Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he cannot do so, then with his tongue. If he cannot do so, then with his heart, which is the weakest level of faith.” (Sahih Muslim 49)
I see the work of Palestine action and the Elbit Eight as an embodiment of that Hadith, of seeing an evil, and changing it with their hands - that is, taking direct action.
We have all been witnessing what’s been happening in Gaza, the daily massacres, destruction, devastation and we often respond with despair and helplessness. There is an obligation upon us as Muslims to end oppression. This is not a time for despondency, confusion or weakness, we must not be bystanders as we witness genocide. The Elbit Eight chose courage for Palestine and we must choose courage too. Either by joining Palestine Action’s movement or by using our voice and supporting them in their work. Courage is indeed a choice. It may not be comfortable for many of us, but it is a choice we can build up to.
No matter the outcome of the trial, the Elbit Eight have already succeeded. First, in taking action that stopped weapons and parts being sent to Palestine. And secondly, for drawing attention to Israel’s and Elbit’s war crimes in open court, testifying to the massacres and current genocide of our brothers and sisters in Palestine.
Whatever comes from this trial, the Elbit Eight have already won, they put their bodies and freedoms on the line for Palestine. A courage many of us would hope to emulate. And I’m honoured to have supported them in the #ElbitEight campaign.