Stopping Scotland’s War Machines

In November, Palestine Action activists who took direct action against weapons producer Thales in Govan will stand trial. Huda Ammori, a founder of Palestine Action, discusses the campaign’s Scottish targets. This is part of a longer interview which you can read here.

What are Palestine Action’s main targets in Scotland or with Scottish connections?

Our main targets in Scotland are Thales, which has a factory in Govan, and Leonardo in Edinburgh. Palestine Action started out in England and Wales, where our main target is Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer. They supply 85% of Israel’s military drone fleet and 85% of their land-based equipment. They provide the ammunition, the bullets used to massacre Palestinians, and they supply tear gas, parts for aircraft, parts for tanks. A lot of Elbit’s work is done in England, and they work closely with companies like Thales, which is one of the world’s biggest weapons manufacturers and a target in its own right.

There is a factory in Leicester called UAV tactile systems. This factory is part-owned by Thales and part-owned by Elbit. We have seen licences from this factory which are evidence that UAV are sending drone equipment directly to the Israeli state. These are used to constantly surveille the population of Gaza,
one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. The majority of the population in Gaza are children of families displaced from other parts of Palestine. Because Israel has put Gaza under a brutal air and sea blockade for over a decade now, it has basically turned Gaza into one of the world’s largest open-air prisons. Every time Israel bombs or strikes Gaza, they are massacring Palestinians who live there. Elbit use these attacks as opportunities to market their weapons as ‘battle-tested’.

Our other key Scottish target, Leonardo, is an Italian weapons company with a huge site in Edinburgh employing 2000 workers. These workers are building laser targeting systems for F35 fighter jets. Israel is the main buyer of these jets, which are used to constantly attack the people in Palestine, as Leonardo
admitted after one of our actions at their site this year.

These are our key targets, but there are numerous other companies and operations in Scotland that are complicit in what is happening in Palestine, despite pro-Palestine sentiment amongst Scottish people, and supposedly even within the Scottish Government.

Yes, there is a notional solidarity with Palestine associated with Scotland. What has the response to your actions been like in Scotland compared with across the rest of the UK? How does Scottish politics connect with your objectives?

One surprise has been that media outlets in Scotland actually cover our actions, which is very different from media in England. We’ve also seen huge amounts of community support in Scotland. When activists targeted Leonardo, there were hundreds of comments from people in the area about the fact that this company is going into schools recruiting workers, and bombarding communities and children with propaganda. When PA took its action, you could see how unhappy people were with the factory being there, despite the propaganda about the jobs it provides, and so on.

In the past, Humza Yousaf has supported the Stop Arming Israel campaign and called for a two-way arms embargo. His wife Nadia El-Nakla has family who’ve had to live through assaults on Gaza. Yousaf should be helping people to understand that these companies are producing components in Scotland for weapons to go to Israel. He should at the very least acknowledge that activists should not be going on trial and facing prison for disrupting the production of weapons.

In Scotland, we’ve got a case coming up in November of three activists who occupied the Thales factory in Govan and caused some damage to the building, forcing the workers to evacuate, so they had to shut down the whole building and put down the tools they were using to make weapons. That was an incredible action, and I think Thales are arguing that it cost them over £1.5 million on one day, which is a good day’s work.

Overall we are quite clear that all of these actions are justified. They are necessary for preventing the loss of lives. That’s the core basis for our defence. When you compare dismantling a weapons factory to the lives taken by that weapons factory, then it is an easy calculation to choose which one is right. Activists like [Trident Ploughshares founder] Angie Zelter, who have taken action numerous times against weapons companies in Scotland, have always been allowed the necessity defence. But PA activists facing trial in Scotland are being told there is a high chance that they will not be allowed to make defences of
necessity, which obviously means that jurors will not be able to see as much of the evidence about these companies’ involvement in war crimes. Jurors are the people who, in a democratic society, are supposed to decide if you’re guilty or not guilty. But whatever happens, guilty or not guilty, we know that history
will vindicate us, that we are on the right side.

Stepping back from current and recent examples, how does Scotland fit into the history of the situation of the Palestinian people?

One Scottish connection with Palestinian history is the Balfour Declaration. It is named after a Scot called James Balfour. When Balfour was UK foreign secretary in 1917, he issued a declaration that called for a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine. Prior to this, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Palestinians used to
live as one people. Shortly after the 1917 Balfour Declaration cemented the first steps for creating the apartheid state of Israel, British soldiers were on the ground. Under what they called the British mandate, they were arresting Palestinians, killing Palestinians, suppressing the indigenous population who were uprising against the colonisation of their lands by the British. One of them was my great-grandfather. He was shot and killed by a British soldier shortly after the Balfour Declaration.

There were instances where they would destroy indigenous villages. In essence, these soldiers were paving the way for the Nakba, which was when Zionist militia who were armed and trained by the British went in in 1948 and forced out more than 750,000 from their homes, destroyed over 500 towns and villages, and massacred many families. After 1948, even though the British were not on the ground, Scottish, English and Welsh diplomatic links, financial links, and other ties were maintained with the Israeli apartheid state. What is happening in Palestine is extremely connected to where we are in the imperial

Palestine Action is part of a tradition both of Palestinian solidarity and of struggle against the arms trade. Are your tactics and methods informed by previous campaigns?

Many of us have been inspired by ploughshares activists, who broke into nuclear weapons bases in Scotland, and who broke into BAE systems facilities in England and stopped the Hawk jets from getting to Indonesia in 1994. Then there were the Irish activists, the Raythen Nine. While Israel was bombing Lebanon in 2009, they went inside the Raythen weapons factory in Derry, smashed the computers and threw them out the windows, smashed the whole site up, and then sat down to play cards and wait for the cops. They were arrested, they all went to court, and they were found not guilty by a jury. And then nine women did the same, and they were found not guilty too. This meant the company had to leave, because the fact that no one would convict these activists meant that the company had no legal protection, and so the factory was forced out of Derry.

We started Palestine Action right after Extinction Rebellion launched. XR made it culturally more normal to take actions which might lead to arrest. Now, obviously we are quite different in our approaches. We take direct action which we see as directed to the source where these weapons are being made, to
stop their production, whereas their action is more public disruption. But what they did was change culture, and also made it more acceptable to say, ‘you know what, the democratic process is broken, and there are other ways we can go about this’. And so I think the groundwork was kind of set for Palestine
Action to launch, and also I think we had a strong amount of faith that a lot of people were willing to risk their liberty when it comes to taking action. So we have had lots of people come over from climate action to action for Palestine – and so many who are doing both.

Where do you draw your courage from when you develop, plan, and carry out your actions?

The main inspiration is the Palestinian people themselves, and how they resist day in and day out. Despite all the odds, despite the strength of the Israeli military, they continue to find new ways to resist. So, for us, when we’re facing court cases or charges under the legal system, when you see what Palestinians are going through, and see their strength, it’s easy to draw inspiration from that strength, and to know that you’re acting in solidarity with them.

After one of our actions, Palestinians painted a mural on walls in Gaza depicting Palestine Action stopping the war machine, and writing ‘Thank You Palestine Action’. It confirms that you are doing the right thing, and that you are on the right track. There was also an action where people threw a red substance on the Balfour statue in Parliament, and a group from Gaza wrote a letter thanking Palestine Action for doing it. It’s really, really good to see how they feel about those actions. A motivation for us all is solidarity with those who are at the other end of these weapons that are being built on our doorstep.