Policing of Palestine Action is Political

Feb 6, 2021

On February 3rd, Palestine Action co-founder Richard Barnard was arrested and charged with “blackmail”. That is, campaigning for Elbit to shut down & demanding LaSalle Investment Management evict Israeli arms company Elbit Systems from their properties, in light of their documented crimes against the Palestinian people.

Richard was interrogated with a slew of loaded questions that go beyond the remit of ordinary police questioning. He was asked if he was racist; if he was an antisemite; and why Palestine Action was not targeting arms companies such as Lockheed Martin. 

Those who have campaigned for Palestine for many years will recognise that these are the sort of ‘attack lines’ characteristically used by the Israeli state to smear and delegitimise criticism of its settler-colonial Apartheid regime. Except this time, the very same propaganda-whataboutery techniques are being used by the British police.

Richard has since been released, yet the issue remains. The attempt to harass, coerce, intimidate and shut down Palestine Action, is part of a much broader exercise to dilute our civil liberties and our right to protest. This is a political move by a government attempting to oppress and incarcerate its own citizens for the sake of protecting an Israeli Arms company, and adopting the exact same Israeli interrogation tactics.

What is more significant about the nature of the police response regarding Palestine Action’s activities over the past 7 months, is the actions the police are choosing to focus on. The latest charges against activists have been “blackmail” and “burglary”, but these charges are not being brought against activists for blockading Elbit, but only for actions against Elbit’s landlords, LaSalle.

What is important to note here, is that in all the years activists have targeted Elbit factories, by damaging its property, blocking its entrances or occupying its rooftops, every single charge to date has been dropped just before it reached court. Elbit does not want its murderous operations to be scrutinised and made public.  

During the recent coordinated direct-action against Elbit between Palestine Action and Extinction Rebellion, the police did not even arrive at the scene until 4 hours after the blockade had begun. Elbit’s own private security arrived after 2 hours, but the police only arrived after they were called by a bystander. This is, once again, evidence that Elbit does not want the police involved at all. It does not want to be brought to court even at the cost of its factory’s protection.

So the recent detention of activists by the police over LaSalle as well as the recent harassment, intimidation, incarceration and the theft of personal items, such as phones, passports, wallets, bank cards and laptops, can only be for actions against companies other than Elbit. 

The police response to Palestine Action, as well as the recent emergent types of loaded questioning (along with the classic racist stereotypes hurled towards women of colour who have been detained) are not “normal” police responses to direct-action, but reflective of a growing allegiance between the British state and the Israeli regime — a political response to protect Israel’s arms industry. In short, the police are trying to find ways to incarcerate Palestine Action activists on charges completely unrelated to Elbit.

This futile, poorly-managed attempt to pressure activists into submission will not stop us, or even slow us down. In fact, we are growing faster because of the police crackdowns and we will continue to grow, continue to fight, continue to enrol, continue to #ShutElbitDown and continue to work to end all UK complicity in Israel’s settler-colonial Apartheid regime.

(After-note to the the police interviewer: you can be sure we’ll be coming for Lockheed Martin next x)