- The Guardian
- Issue #1963
Firefighters called to assist police at a protest targeting an Israeli arms factory in Leicester withdrew today in solidarity with Palestinians.
Members of the Palestine Action group clambered onto the roof of the UAV Tactical Systems factory in Leicester in the early hours and chained the site’s gates shut, halting the production of arms.
The factory, owned by Israeli weapons giant Elbit and Thales UK, is involved in building combat drones which activists say are being used by the Israeli military to bomb Gaza.
More than 200 Palestinians, including sixty-three children, have been killed in Israel’s latest onslaught on the besieged enclave.
Firefighters were called to the weapons factory to ensure the safety of those involved in the action. But having carried out their duties, Leicestershire Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said its members had decided to withdraw.
“The Fire Brigades Union were made aware that the protesters were representing the Palestinian solidarity group Palestine Action,” a statement signed Leicestershire FBU chair Graham Vaux said.
“Union officials immediately reminded senior managers that as firefighters, we are, and remain, a proud humanitarian service and our role does not involve law enforcement.
“The Fire Brigades Union stand in support of Palestinian solidarity and the right to protest.”
The move is the latest show of trade union solidarity with Palestine in recent days.
Members of a dockworkers’ union in Italy refused to load weapons destined for Israel last week, while Palestinians’ historic general strike against Israeli oppression was backed by British trade unions including Unite, the Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) and Unison.
During the rooftop occupation, Palestine Action activists spoke to the Morning Star on condition of anonymity.
“This factory is producing illegal weapons to be used on Palestinians: on men, women and children,” one said.
“There are a lot of us, all from different backgrounds. It is a great experience taking control and knowing that we are making a difference.”
Another occupier said: “They are assembling drones here, but we don’t want to just shut this factory down for just one day. We want to stop these killer drones getting into Israeli hands and bombing Palestine and killing children.”
UAV Tactical Systems says that engines for the Watchkeeper and Hermes drones are manufactured at the Leicester site.
The latter have been used extensively by the Israeli army in previous operations in Gaza and the Hermes 450 was implicated in possible war crimes during an attack on the strip in 2014.
Palestine Action said the factory occupation “shows that it is entirely within our power to stop the production of brutal machinery which is fuelling war crimes in Palestine.”
Campaign Against Arms Trade spokesman Andrew Smith said: “There are few companies as implicated in the ongoing war and occupation as Elbit Systems, which arms, supports and enables Israeli forces every step of the way.
“They couldn’t do this without the complicity and support of arms-dealing governments like the UK, who have fuelled the bombardment.
“If Downing Street wants to play any kind of role in promoting peace then it must end the arms sales and its co-operation with war profiteers like Elbit.”
In the Commons today, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly whether weapons or munitions sold by Britain to Israel have been used to bomb Gaza.
Cleverly refused to answer directly and would only insist that Britain has a “robust arms export licensing regime and all export licences are assessed in accordance with it.”
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who is of British-Palestinian descent, accused the government of shirking its historic responsibilities in failing to be the main sponsor of a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire.
The Leicester occupation was the second action against Elbit factories in 24 hours, after activists blockaded the firm’s factory in Oldham in Greater Manchester on Tuesday.
The blockade was backed by members of the local community including the Oldham Peace and Justice campaign.