We were taken to Oldbury holding centre in Staffordshire and held for 27 hours before being brought before magistrates in Birmingham and Wolverhampton. The company who built it, describes it as a 60-bed suite ‘complete with en-suite rooms’ although there are other more accurate descriptions of a facility designed to separate those it holds from each other and the outside world. Oldbury is a purpose built exercise in sensory deprivation.
Once taken to Oldbury we were separated from each other and given no access to the outside though news of a demonstration outside was leaked to us. You have no newspapers, TV or any reading material. Our watches were taken from us. The food consisted of cheap packaged meals which must have cost at least 30p each.
It was not until Tuesday afternoon that I was taken out of the cells to be interviewed by a member of the West Midlands Police and a Metropolitan Policewoman. The Met woman asked questions about the structure of Palestine Action and she was clearly from Special Branch.
Clearly this is part of a co-ordinated attempt by the Police to crack down on any action directed at the operation of Israeli arms company Elbit.
At 2.30 a.m. I was charged with going equipped to commit criminal damage. I had not been allowed a phone call as is stipulated in the regulations and I asked why not. I was told that this was because my wife, Fiona (from whom I was separated) had told them that she wanted nothing to do with me. At the time I believed it and was taken aback to put it mildly.
It was only in Winson Green, where I was remanded, that I was informed by prison staff that Fiona had been ringing worried about whether I had access to my drugs. It was then that I realised that I had been lied to as part of a campaign to demoralize me. I intend to take legal action for personal injury as a result of this demonstrable lie.
Remanded in Custody
We were all charged with conspiracy to cause criminal damage and going equipped to cause criminal damage. 4 of us were sent to Birmingham magistrates court and 2 to Wolverhampton magistrates. I was amongst the latter. Whereas those sent to Birmingham were immediately bailed, those of us sent to Wolverhampton were remanded in custody by the resident bigot of a magistrate. On Monday the 5th Defendant was released and the following day I was also given conditional bail, a curfew and reporting weekly to the Brighton police.
I was remanded to Winson Green prison which was made famous in 1975 when the Birmingham 6 were met by a ‘reception committee’ of warders who beat them up. This followed similar beatings by the West Midlands Police. The prison however has changed from these dark days.
Although it was frustrating being remanded Winson Green was far more tolerable than being in a police cell. The food was much better and we had a TV in the cells and association with other inmates although we were locked in a cell for 23 hours a day because of COVID, which is rampant in the prison.
Being a recipient of a liver transplant I have to take immune-suppressive drugs each day. This was not possible at the police holding centre and thus in the early hours of Thursday morning, handcuffed and accompanied by 2 prison warders I spent 6 hours at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth A&E obtaining a week’s prescription, which had to be collected later that day by another warder.
I was pleasantly surprised that one of the questions asked at reception was whether I was a racist! I did not see any sign of racial abuse from warders in P wing nor any racist banter among inmates.
Another series of questions concerned whether I was an extremist! I had much pleasure pointing out to the warder that all those who have fought for democratic rights in the past, such as the Suffragettes were called extremists in their time. It was an interesting conversation with a warder who was not unsympathetic to my line of reasoning.
Not only were there large numbers of Black and Muslim inmates but there was a considerable number of Black warders. It made a change from my previous experience of being on remand, nearly 50 years ago at Ashford Young Remand Centre (long since gone). There you were stripped naked at reception and all the Black prisoners were physically assaulted by the White warders. There were no Black warders.
Having access to a TV in our cells meant that I could catch up on the news and sure enough the main headlines concerned the murder and kidnap by a Metropolitan Policeman of Sarah Everard as she was walking home. PC Wayne Couzens had spent some 2½ years in the Met and clearly found his fellow officers and the Met’s institutional misogyny congenial. It would seem that fellow officers had covered up the fact that Couzens had exposed himself twice in a MacDonald’s two days before Sarah’s murder.
It was not surprising that officers from the Met should object so strongly to vigils in support of Sarah Everard that they attacked a peaceful vigil at Clapham Common using the COVID regulations as an excuse.
The BBC excused the Met’s behaviour explaining how the Police ‘were faced with a very difficult decision.’ There was, of course, nothing difficult about the decision. Every day the Police use their discretion not to enforce the law when it comes to matters such as illegal evictions of tenants, racial harassment or allowing the hunting. The Police are and always have been selective in which laws they enforce. That is why fox hunts still continue.
No doubt the Waffen SS faced ‘difficult decisions’ when faced with trainloads of Jews being sent to Auschwitz. Not having the necessary accommodation they were no doubt ‘forced’ to kill them!
The Metropolitan Police, like all police forces only more so, has always been a political police force. No one forced the Met to collaborate, illegally, with building employers in blacklisting militants on building sites. As even the BBC observed
‘A secret police document has revealed how the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch helped the illegal blacklisting of trade unionists – preventing them from getting jobs because of their political views.’
Peter Francis, who infiltrated anti-racist groups between 1993 and 1997 for the SDS, has shed unprecedented light on his former unit, illuminating, for instance, how undercover officers routinely formed sexual relationships with campaigners and stole the identities of dead children.
The SDS officers were a law unto themselves. Their targets were exclusively on the left and environmental and animal rights groups. Their targets did not include the far-Right which has repeatedly been involved in bomb plots and terrorism. The SDS is now subject of a judicial inquiry but that is not expected to go anywhere.
The attack on the women’s vigil at Clapham should be a lesson to all those who believe that all that is necessary is to introduce more women or Black people into the Police. The Met is headed by a woman Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick whose only difference from her male predecessors is the lack of a dick.
Our trial and that of the others arrested is likely to take place next November, COVID permitting.
There are three solicitor firms involved – Kelly’s of Brighton, ITN in London and my own firm, Riley Hayes in Birmingham. There is going to have to be a co-ordinated defence strategy and a defence campaign against what are clearly political charges. Our arguments are based on the common law defence of Necessity and Duress.
In essence they are that you can commit a smaller crime to prevent a greater crime. For example if you smash down a door to rescue someone from a fire then you are committing criminal damage. Likewise if you spray red paint over the factory to highlight the blood that its products spill then that is a lesser evil.
Elbit’s Factories of Death
Elbit are quite upfront. They boast that their drones (Unmanned Aerial Systems) ‘are the backbone of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) UAS force.’ Their main selling point is the experience they have in testing their systems in the field. Gaza is where they perfect their technology.
On 6 December 2017, Citizenlab published a detailed report that showed that Ethiopian dissidents and journalists in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted by sophisticated commercial spyware, sold and operated by Cyberbit, a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems. In a reply to an inquiry from Human Rights Watch on the topic, Cyberbit did not deny selling this kind of technology.
Supplying the World’s Most Repressive Regimes
One of Elbit’s primary customers is the Philippines, whose President, Rodrigo Duterte, is an open admirer of Hitler. This didn’t stop him being shown around Israel’s holocaust propaganda museum Yad Vashem which Israeli Professor Dan Blatman has described as a
‘a hard-working laundromat, striving to bleach out the sins of every anti-Semitic, fascist, racist or simply murderously thuggish leader or politician like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Italy’s Matteo Salvini.
The Diplomat described how Elbit won its first contract in the Philippines for the supply of upgraded armored personnel carriers in June 2014. In August 2020, the Philippine Air Force received full delivery of three Hermes 900 and one Hermes 450 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as part of a contract worth approximately $175 million. Each system consists of three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a ground control system and support equipment.
Goldie Osuri of Warwick University described in ‘Kashmir and Palestine: archives of coloniality and solidarity’ how in 2018, as part of Adani Global’s alliance with the Israeli company, Elbit saw the inauguration of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or drone manufacturing facility in Hyderabad servicing the Indian and Israeli defence forces, which may be used in both Kashmir and in Palestine [Global Studies in Culture and Power Volume 27, 2020]
Exasperating militarization, repression, communalism and Islamophobia
One of Israel’s core propaganda messages is its willingness to help India in its war in its ‘war on Muslim terror’. It is based on the defense of one ethno-religious category against aspirations for justice and is reinforcing communal oppression and conflicts within Indian society. Much of the money spent on Israeli ‘security’ is directly used in repression in Kashmir and the northeastern regions – just as in the case of Israeli repression of the Palestinian people – without any prospect of advancing justice, which would be the only way to achieve an end to the necessity of repression.
The most surprising aspect is India’s fondness of Israeli UAVs even though they have a history of failures. After India first bought Heron UAVs in 2002, two Indian Air Force and two Indian Army UAVs crashed, killing one Air Force handler. The first crash of the UAV happened soon after induction in 2003. On September 14 2015, the Indian government approved the $400 million purchase of 10 armed Heron TP UAVs from IAI. With 22.5% of all UAV imports over the 1985-2014 period, India has topped the list of unmanned aerial systems importers. Other Israeli companies had similar experiences in India. The guns produced by Elbit System’s subsidiary Soltam broke repeatedly during tests and tests were simply repeated in order for Soltam to change the guns and win the deal.
4) Global action to end military relations with Israeli apartheid
In 2011, the Palestinian BDS National Committee issued a call for a comprehensive military embargo on Israel. The call include an end to military aid and weapons exports to Israel, ending the transfer of weapons and military technology to Israel, and ending all forms of military aid and research cooperation. The call for a military embargo is now supported by political parties, NGOs, trade unions and campaign groups across the world.
Some of the key impacts of the campaign include:
· Banks divest from Elbit Systems: More than a dozen banks have announced that they have divested from Elbit Systems over its role in Israel’s military violence, and the company has been blacklisted by many investment advice companies. UK bank Barclays divested after more than 1.7 million people signed a petition organised by Avaaz and campaigners have occupied and protested at bank branches across the UK.
· Elbit loses deals: Elbit’s participation in a Brazilian drone development effort was terminated at the beginning of 2016. This followed a 2014 decision by the Rio Grande do Sul 24 regional government to end a large-scale research collaboration project with Elbit Systems. Elbit factories across the world have been repeatedly blockaded by campaigners. Elbit has lost out on deals in Denmark and France following public campaigns.
· Countries reduce or cut military trade with Israel: South Africa has maintained inthe last decade a de facto freeze in military ties. The Norwegian government has an official policy of not exporting weapons to Israel. In 2010, Norway even refused to allow the testing of a submarine that a German company was manufacturing for Israel in its waters.
· Arms fairs protests: Israeli participation in arms fairs has been contested across the globe – from the Netherlands, to France, to Brazil and the US.
· Campaigns against police training: Especially in Brazil and the US, movements of black and marginalised communities have teamed up with Palestine solidarity activists to stop Israeli police training that reinforce and exasperate police brutality, racism and repression
The Jerusalem Post reported that Elbit and 2 other Israeli companies, Cellebrite and Gaia Automotive Industries, supplied drones that have been used in the Myanmar coup. Jerusalem was supposed to end all military exports to Myanmar, after allegations emerged that weaponry was being sold to the army.
The New York Times published a report which revealed that
“Israeli-made surveillance drones, European iPhone cracking devices and American software that can hack into computers and vacuum up their contents,” were used by the generals to carry out their coup despite various sanctions and international arms embargoes which prohibit such systems from being exported to the country.
“The military is now using those very tools to brutally crack down on peaceful protesters risking their lives to resist the military junta and restore democracy,”
The report found that Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit, which claims to have had “no dealings with Myanmar since 2015 or 2016” supplied spare parts to repair military grade Elbit drones in late 2019.
In 2018 Israel was supposed to have blocked all military exports to Burma after reports emerged that Israeli weaponry was being sold to the Burmese Army which had been accused of using them in genocidal actions towards the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority.
‘Israel has been accused of continuing to sell military equipment to the Burmese military even as it faced accusations of war crimes against minority Rohingya Muslims.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry denied media reports that it had sold advanced weapons to Burma and rejected any “alleged involvement in the tragedy in the Rakhine region.” But that was a lie. When Israel’s High Court was petitioned to prevent arms sales to Burma, the government sought and obtained a gag order on the Court’s own ruling! In other words it is a criminal offence to even publish the Court’s ruling! There are still some people who describe Israel as just another Western democracy.
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Burma to Bangladesh since a military crackdown was launched in August 2017. The United Nations denounced it as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.
Ha’aretz reported that “Welcome to the Myanmar Navy,” was the caption on the Myanmar Navy’s Facebook page, in honor of the arrival of an Israeli patrol boat to Myanmar’s shore. “The Super-Dvora MK III is moving forward at 45 knots on Myanmar waters,” the post continued.
Israel’s UK-based arms company Elbit systems, woke up to two of their key factories smashed, sprayed and painted red by Palestine Action on the morning of the Balfour Declaration anniversary. Simultaneously, activists are blockading Elbit’s other subsidiary, UAV Engines in Shenstone, forcing three of their weapons factories to shut down.
These multifaceted ‘hits’ against Israel’s largest arms company have set a new precedent for sustained direct action, involving 100s of activists from up and down the UK. Palestine Action, a new and rapidly growing movement challenging the UK’s unwavering support for Israel’s apartheid regime, have set out to symbolically de-commemorate the 103-year anniversary of the fateful Balfour Declaration.
Palestine Action’s statement goes on to describe Elbit as a company which openly markets its weapons as “battle tested ” on Palestinian civilians. They are supplying the world’s most notorious repressive regimes, including India’s current occupation of Kashmir.
Both the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency, as well as the UK police, have been trialing Elbit’s drones to mass-surveil large stretches of our coastline, in line with Priti Patel’s militarisation of the English Channel.
The EU’s border agency Frontex has also contracted Elbit to surveil the Mediterranean, leaving the lives of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, fleeing war torn countries, in mortal danger. The EU was recently accused of “watching” migrants drown rather than investing in ways to save them.
Elbit Systems has also played a key role in the development of Trump’s militarised US/Mexico border wall, while the very same technologies are also being used to securitise and control the native O’odham people on Arizona’s indigenous reserves.
5. The precise definition of UJ, and the manner in which it is implemented, varies somewhat between different States. However, the fundamental purposive approach is that in the case of the gravest crimes under international law, accountability (in the form of individual criminal responsibility) should be provided for, regardless of the territory in which the offences were committed in or the nationality of the alleged offender. The UK gives effect to the principle of UJ through statutory law. Section 1(1) of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 provides:
“Any person, whatever his nationality, who, whether in or outside the United Kingdom, commits, or aids, abets or procures the commission by any other person of a grave breach of any of the scheduled conventions, the first protocol or the third protocol shall be guilty of an offence”. (emphasis added)
“A public official or person acting in an official capacity, whatever his nationality, commits the offence of torture if in the United Kingdom or elsewhere he intentionally inflicts severe pain or suffering on another in the performance or purported performance of his official duties”. (emphasis added)
8. Under section 51 of the International Criminal Court Act 2001, it is an offence against the law of England and Wales for a person to commit genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime. This section applies to acts committed in England and Wales, but also in some circumstances to those committed outside of the UK (if by a UK national, resident or a person subject to UK service jurisdiction). Notably the Geneva Conventions Act and the Criminal Justice Act do not have the same restriction, and operate so that the UK can exercise jurisdiction over an individual “whatever his nationality”.
9. A general principle which underpins UJ is the presumption in favour of territoriality. The general position is that criminal offences are most likely to be effectively investigated and prosecuted in the territory where they have been allegedly committed.
Universal Jurisdiction at work in the UK
10. Whilst these types of cases are exceptional, there have been some occasions of UJ arrests and prosecutions in the UK. On 18 July 2005, an Afghan warlord named Faryadi Sarwar Zardad was found guilty of torture and hostage taking in what was thought to be the first successful conviction in the UK for a crime committed abroad. The trial followed an investigation which involved UK police officers visiting Afghanistan to identify and take accounts from victims. Witnesses gave evidence at the trial at the Old Bailey via video link from the UK embassy in Kabul. Upon conviction Mr Zardad was sentenced to a 20 year custodial sentence.
11. In January 2013, a Nepalese Colonel, Kumar Lama was arrested in East Sussex and charged with two counts of torture under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 relating to incidents that had allegedly occurred in 2005. This arrest and prosecution did not ultimately lead to a conviction.
There has been a pattern of harassment of Palestine Action and groups like Extinction Rebellion, which took part in the Oldham occupation. Palestine Action is a new grassroots network of anti-racist groups and individuals taking direct action to end UK complicity with Israel’s colonial and Apartheid regime. Despite the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s attempts to shut the group down, its popularity is growing both in the UK and now, internationally. It has, to date, targeted Elbit over 40 times, and will routinely, systematically, continue to escalate its actions until the British Government and this evil arms company can no longer profit from the death of Palestinian civilians. The ultimate aim is to shut Elbit down and end all UK complicity with Israeli apartheid
Please Sign the Petition: No Israeli Killer Drones for the Europe
PSC is Taking the Coward’s Way Out and Trying to Undermine Palestine Action
Following the success of Palestine Action in raising the profile of the campaign against Elbit, you might imagine that Palestine Solidarity Campaign would lend its support. Not a bit of it. The Executive, led by Director Ben Jamal and its equally useless Chair, Kamal Hawash, have done their best to undermine support for PA, distributing a distilled version of legal advice from Bindman’s Solicitors. What they have refused to do is to distribute the legal advice itself.
The gist of the advice is that people or groups who contribute financially or otherwise to PA may themselves be liable. At a time when the Government is proposing a Police and Crime Bill and organisations are campaigning against these attack on basic civil liberties, PSC chooses to attack those campaigning against Elbit.
The group which controls PSC, the subterranean Socialist Action and associated splinters, are fearful of any independent initiatives taken outside their control. That explains their backstabbing attacks on direct action. They have even lobbied Omar Barghouti and the BNC National Committee to try and get them to dissociate themselves from the activists.
The advice that they give below is basically rubbish. The Police have never tried to charge people who fund groups who may go on to commit criminal offences. To raise this prospect is in itself an invitation to the state to extend its activities. Just as with the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign PSC hauls the white flag of surrender in advance. The following advice was distributed to all PSC groups. My advice is to ignore it and treat it with contempt.
Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Palestinian Action
Kamel Hawwash and Ben Jamal outlined concerns about the activities of the group Palestine Action, following discussion at PSC’s Executive Committee. A number of key partners, including the leadership of the Boycott National Committee (BNC) in Palestine, have discussed with PSC concerns about the activities of this group, and the risks to the wider movement. BNC have communicated these concerns directly to Palestine Action, and asked them to remove all references to BDS from their website, a request eventually complied with by Palestine Action.
PSC has sought legal advice about the potential liabilities arising from the commission of acts of criminal damage of high monetary levels (more than £5000) and how these may also apply to those offering support to these activities even if not undertaking the activities themselves. This advice included noting that Section 1 of the Criminal Damage Act 1971 states that it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly damage property that belongs to another person. A person convicted of criminal damage can be sentenced to a maximum of 3 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £2500 if the value of the damage caused is under £5000. If the value of the damage caused exceeds £5000 a person can be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
These liabilities potentially extend to both individuals encouraging or assisting criminal acts (including, for example, providing financial support), and organisations, including PSC branches that offered encouragement or assistance.
These concerns are not raised because PSC, or the BDS Movement is opposed to any form of direct action. Instead, they are raised because of the strategic and legal risks associated with the type of action being conducted by the group. PSC sought the advice to ensure it was discharging its duty of care to members to ensure they were aware of possible legal consequences of their association or support for Palestine Action’s activities.