Palestine Action announces siege on Israeli weapons factory in Leicester, UK

Jodie Jones

Mondoweiss  /  April 28, 2023

Palestine Action is escalating its campaign against Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems by besieging its factory in Leicester, UK. The mission is clear: Palestine Action is not leaving until Elbit does.

Britain-based direct-action group, Palestine Action, has vowed to besiege a factory operated by Elbit Systems-owned UAV Tactical Systems, in Leicester, starting May 1st, 2023. The event is an escalation of the group’s relentless direct-action campaign against Israel’s largest weapons provider in a bid to break British complicity with the colonial violence inflicted upon Palestinians by the apartheid state. The Leicester mission is clear: Palestine Action is not leaving until Elbit does.

The direct-action ‘siege’ turns the tables on the colonial Israeli government, which has been besieging Gaza, with the help of Elbit Systems, since 2007. Treated with impunity by the international community, the chokehold exerted by the Zionist regime over the world’s largest ‘open-air prison’ has led to one of the planet’s worst humanitarian crises. Not to mention the long-since forgotten cautionary tales of Gaza’s inhabitability by the year 2020.

The Israeli Occupation has been employing siege tactics to injure, capture, intimidate, and subjugate Palestinian communities for decades. One of the most pivotal events of the second intifada, the battle of Jenin, was exacerbated by the 10-day blockade imposed by the Occupation Forces during April 2002’s brutal incursion. Fast forward to recent times, residents of Shuafat Camp, Nablus, Jenin, Sheikh Jarrah and many more locales are continuously subject to sieges and flying checkpoints, which effectively blockade communities. And indeed, Palestinians are frequently besieged inside their homes by herds of racist settlers, forming lynch mobs in the streets outside, as witnessed recently in Huwwara, Nablus. 

The impact of this aggressive tactic is not only visible in the curtailments of freedom and safety, the blockades imposed upon Palestinian communities were specifically designed to systematically disrupt and hinder their ability to survive. It is a well-known fact that Occupation authorities calculated the minimum caloric intake for Gazans to keep them on the brink of malnutrition whilst actively problematizing every element of survival. The Occupation diverts and pollutes Gaza’s water supply, limits electricity, restricts imports and exports, and prohibits ‘dual purpose’ materials, which include many necessary supplies crucial for rebuilding Gaza’s devastated infrastructure. The arbiters of arbitrary evil even force Gazan farmers to remove all traces of vine from their tomatoes before they can be exported. In 2021, after just 50 days of this absurd measure being implemented, which also accelerates the expiration of tomatoes, farmers in the strip reported financial implications to the tune of $17.8m.

Fully aware of its chaos-causing potential, Palestine Action is turning this siege on its head with a ‘siege’ that symbolically parallels that under which Palestinians live. The promise is to blockade Meridian Business Park’s resident weapons manufacturer until they can no longer sustain operations and are forced to leave. The blockade will be maintained around the clock by activists, community and faith groups, affiliated organizations, and individuals of conscience. Everyone is invited to participate and to stay for as long as possible. Palestine Action has published a helpful list of recommended items for comrades committed for the long haul.

Palestine Action co-founders, Huda Ammori and Richard Bernard, have spent recent weeks touring Britain with rapper-activist, Lowkey, and weapons trade expert Andrew Feinstein to educate and engage people about the siege. Online seminars were also held.

The talks have exposed the unassuming East Midlands site as a crucial link in Elbit’s repertoire and within the global weapons trade. Particular focus has been given to the flagship product made in Leicester: the Watchkeeper drone. U-TacS modeled the Watchkeeper after Elbit’s Hermes drone, which is marketed as ‘battle tested’ due to extensive deployment over Gaza. The British Army and Border Force also use the Hermes-inspired Watchkeeper, which has accumulated 100,000 hours of service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Watchkeeper’s research and development trajectory underscores the murky inner workings of an industry collaborating to profit from murder and surveillance.

Palestine Action also revealed the Leicester enterprise holds export licenses for the sale, to Israel, of drone systems, target acquisition, surveillance systems, electronic equipment, and other military technologies. Freedom of Information disclosures show the Leicester factory supplies Israel with infrared or thermal imaging equipment and components for military-grade ground vehicles. The necessity of shutting down UAV Tactical Systems and all Elbit brands should be clear.

The siege of U-TacS will continue to tear down what’s left of Elbit’s already-suffering reputation and dwindling financial prospects. In November 2022, the British Ministry of Defence canceled over £280m of contracts with Elbit due to concerns over “operational sovereignty.”  Lessons from other potent Palestine Action victories will also serve the siege, like the abandonment of Elbit’s London HQ and the closure of Elbit Ferranti in Greater Manchester. The latter was achieved alongside the local community, who took the wheel of the movement and drove Elbit out of Oldham for good.

In May 2021, thousands demonstrated their support for Palestine Action and the movement to #ShutElbitDown, during a six-day occupation on the roof of U-TacS. Locals showed solidarity with the brave activists who had scaled the roof in rage. Flags, signs, chants, and community care were shown, while the local fire brigade refused to remove activists occupying the roof as a mark of solidarity with the movement. Palestine Action will end Elbit’s Leicester tenure using the same combination of community engagement and relentless action.

From May 1st, join Palestine Action as they return to Leicester to cause non-stop disruption. The group vows to sever U-TacS’ connection to Israel’s weapons supply chain, cut off access, and continue financially humiliating Israel’s largest arms provider until they’re forced to permanently end business in Britain.

The siege will officially begin at 3:00 pm on Monday, May 1st, at the factory gates where a range of activities are planned, including an exclusive performance by Lowkey, speeches, poetry, and Palestinian Dabke. After Lowkey’s showstopper, camp will be established, and the evening will end with a workshop and film screening.

A timetable of various events and workshops is available here. More workshops will be announced soon, covering everything from arts as cultural resistance, to Palestine in context. For more information, please visit Palestine Action

Palestine Action is enabling everyone to be a part of history. Join the struggle for Palestinian liberation by severing the monstrous head of the global weapons trade and throwing a wrench in the works of imperialism. 

Join – Support – Donate – #ShutElbitDown

Jodie Jones is a writer, organizer, and member of Palestine Action.