The frequency and extent of Palestine solidarity actions which aim to stop arms to Israel is increasing. Here, rs21 members in Newcastle report on their campaign to shut down Rafael, and we highlight direct actions that took place in Manchester, Somerset, Bolton and Glasgow. 

Actions 24-29 February.

Newcastle

On Saturday 24 February, the Shut Down Rafael campaign and the Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as well as many other activists, turned out in great number to protest outside Rafael, the Israeli-owned weapons factory on Scotswood Road in Newcastle.

The demonstrators came from all walks of life and had a very large and hopeful presence of youth, students, members of the local Muslim community and activists against the ongoing slaughter and famine across Gaza and the siege of the West Bank.

Among the demonstrators were rank-and-file trade unionists from the Northumberland NEU and Unite Community (Tyne & Wear).

Rafael, Newcastle

This was one of a string of demonstrations held outside the arms factory in an ongoing campaign started in October, inspired by the three Palestine Action members who took direct action against the factory in May 2023. 

Pearson Engineering Ltd. in Newcastle was purchased in 2022 by Rafael, Israel’s third-largest weapons company. Rafael’s missile production includes Elbit drones, which are widely used by the IDF.

During the Saturday morning demonstration, the police turned out in force to protect the entrance of the factory. Embarrassed by the persistent demonstrations, growing solidarity movement and a recent unannounced blockade, they threw their weight around in a belligerent manner which only worsened throughout the morning.

The demonstrators, over more than two hours of peaceful picketing with Palestinian flags and banners, were met by scores of locals honking their car horns in support.

Nonetheless, the behaviour of the police was clearly intended from the outset to provoke the solidarity movement. Initially, they demanded the withdrawal of red-stained body bags, representing the countless massacred children in Palestine, on account that it might cause offence and confusion to passersby. The invasive filming of the faces of the demonstrators also apparently served as a means for our own protection.

Having failed to repress the protest over several hours, the police opted to intentionally incite the end of the peaceful demonstration. As numbers dwindled, they arrested an isolated demonstrator who has previously been targeted by the police, criminalised, and imprisoned for assisting last May’s direct action against the factory.

A group of protestors determined to prevent the arrest of a man posing no threat faced a disorganised assault from Northumbria Police. Eager for their ‘pound of flesh,’ the police officers chose to flood small spaces, grope a woman in a kettle and deploy unwarranted physical force. These unnecessary, heavy-handed tactics, adorned by semi-literate vowel noises, came close to seriously injuring several protestors.

Activists gathered soon after to protest outside the police station which held their arrested comrade, demanding his release and condemning police conduct that morning. The abolitionist chants and slogans which spread in 2020-2022 returned with fresh anger – a sign of the need to link our inescapably shared struggles against the British state.

A sequence like this leaves you with a grim sense of clarity. No amount of police aggression will deter the Palestinian solidarity movement and if anything, Northumbria Police have taught and reminded us of their true role as guardians of business. No amount of slaughter, paid by our own taxes, will dissuade a police officer, paid by our own taxes, from wailing on the working man and woman. After all, it is the Rishi Sunaks and Keir Starmers of this country that they serve. Politically confronting the state is a necessary next step in the movement, a step which the police seem determined to help us make.

The success of the Shut Down Rafael campaign has been in drawing together various fractions and factions around a common target. rs21 Northern Members intend to strengthen the solidarity movement and broaden its reach across trade unions and other social movements.

However much organising and however many actions it takes, the local movement will remain resolute until we shut down Rafael!

 

On 29 February, Israel committed another massacre against Palestinians whilst they were queueing for food aid. Through live fire, 104 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more injured in what is being called the ‘flour massacre’. Within 24 hours, direct actions took place across Scotland and England to protest against Britain’s role in the genocide.

Manchester

BNY Mellon, Manchester

On 29 February, activists from Palestine Action occupied the Manchester offices of Bank of New York (BNY) Mellon, which invests over £10 million in Israel’s biggest weapons firm, Elbit Systems. Elbit Systems provide 85% of Israel’s military drone fleet and land-based equipment, as well as bombs, missiles and other weaponry. The Israeli weapons maker market their weapons as ‘battle-tested’ after they are developed during bombardments on occupied Palestine. Elbit’s CEO Bezalel Machlis explained in a video how crucial Elbit was to the ongoing genocide and how the company has received gratitude by the Israeli military for their lethal services.

Somerset

Council, Somerset.

Several local residents of Somerset and supporters of Palestine Action disrupted Somerset Council’s ‘Property and Investments Sub-Committee meeting, as the council lease Aztec West 600 to Israeli weapons firm Elbit Systems.

Locals took it in turn to disrupt different points of the meeting in order to convey the residents frustration at the council’s continued complicity in the genocide of Palestine. The majority of councillors were followed out of the room when they first refused to hear the residents’ concerns. In total, the councillors left the room twice and after being disrupted for an hour, the third time they left they closed the meeting o the public and move rooms.

This is the second council meeting disrupted by locals over the tenancy with Elbit Systems, having previously interrupted the Somerset Council Executive Commitee on 7th February 2024 [1]. Somerset Council are the landlords of Aztec West 600, the headquarters of Elbit Systems. Due to financial concerns, the council have made plans to sell Aztec West 600 as part of a wholesale move to dispose of their commercial investments. However, residents are demanding the council follow their legal and moral obligations to immediately evict Elbit from the property before disposing of the site.

Bolton

On 29 February, activists from Palestine Action targeted Avnet’s offices in Bolton. The company supplies electronics for weaponry made by Elbit Systems. The activists sprayed ‘Avnet kills Gazan Babies’ on the front doors, used repurposed fire extinguishers to cover the building in red paint and threw glass bottles through windows. Avnet who describe the company as a ‘leading global technology distributor’,  boast of their involvement in the production of the F-35 lightning programme. The F-35 fighter jet is frequently used by the Israeli military to commit genocide in Gaza. Since October 7th, over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than 70,000 injured and the majority of Gaza is displaced.

Glasgow

On the same night, an anonymous group targeted the Barclays branch in Shawlands, Glasgow. They put up posters detailing the situation in Rafah and Barclays’ links with weapons companies, spray-painted the slogans “Barclays funds genocide” and “free Palestine,” and smashed the windows. No arrests were made. 

Barclays holds over £1 billion in shares of companies whose weapons, components, and military technology have been used by the Israeli settler colonial state against Palestinian civilians. It provides almost £4 billion in loans and underwriting to these companies. (The companies are BAE Systems, Raytheon, Rolls Royce, Elbit Systems, General Dynamics, Boeing, Caterpillar, Ultra, QinetiQ.)

In a statement which they sent to Palestine Action, the group called for people who bank with Barclays to close their account and people who work in Barclays to ‘join your trade union and organise with your colleagues to make Barclays boycott and divest from the genocidal Israeli state.’

The group stated: ‘Until Barclays cuts ties with these companies and stops profiting from the genocide of Palestinians, they are a legitimate target. Property damage is nothing compared to the suffering of the Palestinian people. Actions like this one will only spread and multiply.’

‘Companies that enable genocide cannot be allowed to continue business as usual. We can directly disrupt the war machine right now. Let’s make Glasgow a city that takes a true stand in solidarity with Palestine.’

Thanks to Palestine Action for information on the actions in Manchester, Somerset, Bolton and Glasgow which all took place within 24 hours on 29 February.

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