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UK: Pro-Palestine activists 'not guilty' after defacing Israeli arms company

Judge throws out case against Palestine Action campaigners who targeted Elbit Systems over involvement in drone warfare
Activists from Palestine Action protest outside the headquarters of Elbit Systems (Palestine Action)

Three activists in the UK have been acquitted of criminal damage over daubing the walls of an Israeli arms company with red paint.

The verdict at Newcastle-under-Lyme magistrates court, in Staffordshire, England, which was hailed as a "landmark" decision by the campaign group Palestine Action, found the three "not guilty" over the action taken against Elbit Systems subsidiary UAV Engines in February 2021.

Palestine Action has said Elbit's drones have been used by Israeli forces to bombard and surveil Palestinian civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip before they entered the global market, where they were sold as "battle-tested" and "field-proven" to repressive governments around the world.

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In his judgement, Judge Marcus Waites said the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had failed to prove that the conviction of the defendants would be proportionate to their right to protest and said the duration of the protest and disruption caused had been limited and posed no threat to public order.

He added, however, that the judgement was not a precedent.

Speaking on Monday, one of the activists, named as Sarah, called for Elbit Systems to be prevented from operating in the UK.

"Throwing this paint may not protect Gaza. What protects Gaza is stopping the bombing. Elbit produce weapons, tanks and drones used to commit crimes against humanity, and this is what is unlawful. Export licences should not be granted while Elbit continue to violate human rights," she said in court.

"In the face of these crimes, you have to do something. If you do nothing, then Elbit continues to make its smart weaponry which enables Israel to kill efficiently. Elbit has no business being allowed to be in the UK."

Wave of protests

The UK operations of Elbit, founded in 1966 with headquarters in the Israeli city of Haifa, have been targeted several times by Palestine Action.

Past protests have taken place at sites linked to the company, including in the county of Kent, the Greater Manchester area, Runcorn and Leicester.

February's protest involved members of both Palestine Action and environmental campaigners, Extinction Rebellion.

Activists spray-painted the walls, scaled a ledge and hung a banner reading "Shut Elbit Down". In statements to the media, the campaigners said they opposed "an economy based on devastation, occupation and war".

Despite the controversy, Elbit Systems has been expanding its operations internationally.

Last month, the company opened a branch in the United Arab Emirates as relations between the two countries continued to thaw following last summer's normalisation agreement.

Elbit also had a booth in the Dubai Air Show in November, representing Israel for the first time.

At the event, Elbit said it had manufactured advanced weapons for air, land and sea, including military aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems and crewless surface vessels, and electronic warfare and espionage weapons.

It made more than $4.662bn revenue in 2020.

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