Chloe Marsh | Palestine Monitor
3 July 2010
On 16th January 2009 seven U.K. peace activists broke into the premises of EDO MBM, suppliers of weapons components and in the words of one of them, Elijah Smith ’set out to smash it up to the best of our abilities’.
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, they barricaded themselves in and set to work. Equipment used to make weapon components were 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. Two activists who supported them outside the factory gates were also on trial. All of the defendants have argued that what they did was not only morally necessary but crucially that it was legal. U.K 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 U.S activist who was killed by an IDF bulldozer in Rafah, as an inspiration. The court heard a passage of Corrie’s diary ’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, who was an international human rights volunteer in Gaza during Cast Lead. 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 UNWRA compounds where civilians were sheltering and have been given an edited version of the Goldstone report.
Recently elected member of Parliament for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas also gave evidence supporting the decommssioners, saying that the democratic process ’had been exhausted’ as far as the factory was concerned.
On January the 17th 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 over 1400 and counting. 300 of the dead were children. It was against this background that the “citizen’s decommissioning” of EDO MBM/ITT took place.
EDO/ITT is an arms manufacturer, based in Brighton since 1946. They were acquired along with the rest of EDO Corporation by the multinational arms conglomerate ITT in December 2007. Their primary business is the manufacture of weapons systems such as bomb release mechanisms and bomb racks. This includes crucially the manufacture of the VER-2 Zero Retention Force Arming Unit for the Israeli Air Force’s F16 war planes.
Over the years, EDO have consistently denied supplying Israel, and despite over fifty court cases campaigners were not able to properly expose the links between the factory and the IAF. However the serious nature of the charges against the seven (the factory sustained nearly £200,000 of damage and may not have recommenced production for weeks) means that for the first time courts took the argument that EDOs business is fundamentally illegal very seriously.
Paul Hills, the Managing Director of EDO MBM, spent his five days on the witness stand last week being confronted with all the evidence gathered by campaigners over the years –evidence which exposes a complex network of collaboration between British, American and Israeli arms companies and the way in which their deals are clouded in secrecy. The Decommissioners were able to present Mr Hills, for the first time, with a dossier of evidence showing how EDO MBM use a front company in the U.S.A to indirectly supply components for the F 16 to Israel. Under U.K law the supply of weapons components that might be used in the Occupied Territories 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 their was enough evidence to justify a genuinely held belief they did. He also offered the opinion that End User Certificates required for arms export licences 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.
On Friday, the jury found Simon Levin, Tom Woodhead, Ornella Saibene, Bob Nicholls, Harvey Tadman, Elijah Smith and Chris Osmond not guilty of “Conspiracy to Cause Criminal damage” by unanimous verdict in Hove Crown Court.
Chris Osmond said “This action was taken because of EDO MBMs illegal supply of weapons to the Israeli military. We brought the suffering of ordinary Palestinians into a British courtroom and confronted with the evidence they took the brave decision to find that our actions were justified.”
The decommissioners’ stance made it clear to companies like EDO that they can no longer count on not being held to account for their actions. There are now a growing number of people in the international community 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.
For more information see www.smashedo.org.uk