[News] Activists found not guilty for decommissioning weapons factory

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 7 19:15:08 EDT 2010

Activists found not guilty for decommissioning weapons factory

Chloe Marsh, The Electronic Intifada, 7 July 2010

Seven anti-war activists on trial for entering a 
Brighton weapons factory and "decommissioning" it 
were found unanimously "not guilty" last week.

On 16 January 2009, in the midst of Israel's 
relentless bombing of Gaza, six of the defendants 
broke into the premises of EDO MBM, a supplier of 
weapons components. According to one of the 
defendants, Elijah Smith, they "set out to smash 
it up to the best of our abilities." Two 
activists who supported them outside the factory 
gates were also put on trial for "conspiracy to cause criminal damage"

It was an entirely accountable action which was 
always intended to end in a trial and each 
decommissioner had pre-recorded a video in which 
they stated the reasons for their participation 
-- to help dismantle the war machine from the factory floor.

Once inside the building, the six barricaded 
themselves in and set to work; equipment used to 
make weapon components was trashed and computers, 
filing cabinets and office furnishings were 
thrown out of the windows. Once they were done 
they calmly waited for the police to arrest them. 
All of the defendants have argued that what they 
did was not only morally necessary but crucially, 
that it was legal. UK law allows the commission 
of damage of property to prevent greater crimes.

Two of the accused, Simon Levin and Chris Osmond, 
have extensive experience of working in Palestine 
with the International Solidarity Movement. Chris 
Osmond told the court that "the humanitarian 
disaster unfolding in Gaza at that time meant it 
was imperative to act." He cited the words of 
Rachel Corrie, the US activist who was killed in 
2003 by an Israeli soldier operating a bulldozer 
in Gaza, as an inspiration. The court heard a 
passage of Corrie's diary in which she wrote: 
"I'm witnessing this chronic insidious genocide 
and I'm really scared. This has to stop; I think 
it is a good idea idea for all of us to drop 
everything and devote our lives to making this stop."

During the trial the court heard not only from 
the defendants themselves but from Sharyn Lock, a 
human rights volunteer who was in Gaza during the 
winter 2008-09 attacks. She was inside al-Quds 
hospital in Gaza City when it was attacked with 
white phosphorus. She concluded her evidence by 
saying that she had no doubt that those who armed 
the Israeli Air Force "had the blood of children 
on their hands." The jury saw footage of the air 
attacks on the UN agency for Palestine refugees 
(UNRWA) compound where civilians were sheltering 
and have been given an edited version of the Goldstone report.

Recently-elected member of parliament for the 
local area, Caroline Lucas also gave evidence 
supporting the activists, saying that the 
democratic process "had been exhausted" as far as the factory was concerned.

On 17 January 2009 the bombs had already fallen 
relentlessly on Gaza for three weeks. Massive, 
passionate demonstrations and pickets had been 
held in many cities around the country and the 
world in protest against Israel's war crimes, but 
to no avail. A growing sense of helplessness was 
grabbing hold of the movement as the Palestinian 
body count stood at more than 1,400 and counting. 
Three hundred of the dead were children. It was 
in this context that the "citizens' decommissioning" of EDO MBM/ITT took place.

The arms manufacturer EDO/ITT has been based in 
Brighton since 1946. Acquired along with the rest 
of EDO Corporation by the multinational arms 
conglomerate ITT in December 2007, the company's 
primary business is the manufacture of weapons 
systems such as bomb release mechanisms and bomb 
racks. Crucially, this includes the manufacture 
of the VER-2 Zero Retention Force Arming Unit for 
the Israeli Air Force's F16 war planes.

Over the years EDO has consistently denied 
supplying Israel, and despite more than fifty 
court cases campaigners have not been able to 
properly expose the links between the factory and 
the IAF. However the serious nature of the 
charges against the eight activists (the factory 
sustained nearly £200,000 -- or $301,600 -- of 
damage and may not have recommenced production 
for weeks) means that for the first time courts 
are taking seriously the argument that EDO's business is fundamentally illegal.

Paul Hills, the managing director of EDO MBM, 
spent his five days on the witness stand at the 
beginning of the trial being confronted with all 
the evidence gathered by campaigners over the 
years exposing a complex network of collaboration 
between British, American and Israeli arms 
companies and the way in which their deals are 
clouded in secrecy. The activists on trial were 
able to present Hills, for the first time, with a 
dossier of evidence showing how EDO MBM uses a 
front company in the US to indirectly supply 
components for F-16 aircraft to Israel. Under UK 
law the supply of weapons components that might 
be used in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip is actually a crime.

After hearing Hills' explanations of his 
company's business practices, Judge George 
Bathurst-Norman said that despite Hill's denials 
of dealing with Israel, it was clear that there 
was enough evidence to justify a genuinely-held 
belief that they did. He also offered the opinion 
that End User Certificates required for arms 
export licenses were "not worth the paper they 
are written on" as they can be easily manipulated.

There is a history of juries in British courts 
finding anti-war activists not guilty when they 
attack machinery used in war crimes. In 1996 four 
women from Trident Ploughshares decommissioned a 
Hawk jet that was about to be shipped to 
Indonesia -- they were found not guilty. In 2008 
the Raytheon 9, who damaged a factory in Derry 
supplying weapons to Israel during the 2006 
Lebanon war, were acquitted by a jury and only 
two weeks ago a group of nine women carrying out 
a similar action at Raytheon during the Gaza 
attacks were also found not guilty by an unanimous jury.

The not guilty verdicts handed down by a jury of 
randomly selected members of the public, will 
make it clear to companies like EDO that not only 
is there a growing number of people who are 
willing to risk their own liberty to stand up for 
the people of Gaza and to challenge Israel's war 
crimes through whatever means possible, but that 
public opinion in the UK is hardening against Israel.

Chloe Marsh is a long-term peace campaigner and 
activist. She has been involved in campaigning 
against the arms trade for many years and 
opposing the illegal wars in Iraq and 
Afghanistan, and she's also worked with the 
International Solidarity Movement in Palestine. 
Smash EDO has been campaigning for the closure of 
EDO MBM/ITT for six years. To get involved, 
visit: <http://www.smashedo.org.uk/>www.smashedo.org.uk

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