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Activists call for end to UK complicity in Israeli war crimes

Hundreds of activists in the United Kingdom will mark the anniversary of Israel’s devastating war on Gaza last summer by temporarily closing down an arms factory which produces engines used in Israeli drones.

The ‘Block the Factory’ protest is planned for July 6 and will see Palestine solidarity campaigners close down production at the UAV Engines Ltd factory in England, a subsidiary of Israel’s largest arms producer, Elbit Systems, which produces drones used extensively in Israeli military operations.

The demonstration coincides with a new report produced collaboratively by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, War on Want and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which documents the history of arms sales between the UK and Israel, most notably in the months directly after the Gaza war.

The findings support data produced by Amnesty International in 2009, which reported that Israeli drones used in Operation Cast Lead -- including strikes which killed civilians in their homes, hospitals and shops -- used engines produced by UAV engines Ltd.

At the time, Amnesty urged the British government to suspend all military exports to Israel until there is no longer a substantial risk that “such equipment will be used for serious violations of human rights.”

However, years later, the company is still exporting components for use in Israeli drones -- Israeli military commanders widely praised drones made by Elbit Systems for their role in Operation Protective Edge -- and organizers of the protest are demanding an immediate embargo on arms sales to Israel, based on the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

"We're taking this action on the anniversary of last summer's attack on Gaza to highlight the UK government's complicity in Israel's war crimes against Palestinians. When governments won't act to stop Israeli impunity, ordinary people have to,” Hilary Mason, an activist from London Palestine Action, one of the groups organizing the protest, told Ma’an.

Last year, at the height of the conflict in August, protesters closed down the factory for two days by staging a sit-in protest, costing the company over $156,000.

“We believe that by allowing this factory to manufacture and sell parts for drones - which we know are going to Israel - the UK government is colluding in Israel’s war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza and beyond,” Elly Hassan, from London Palestine Action said.

The protest is backed by over 30 UK organizations and nine international groups, and will include kite-making, live music arts and crafts as part of creative actions designed to halt the factory’s productivity.

"We know this factory near Birmingham is owned by Elbit Systems and makes drone engines which it exports to Israel, meaning it is profiting from death and destruction in Gaza and around the world,” Mason added.

'UK companies complicit in Israeli war crimes'

The protest comes amid increased scrutiny surrounding Israel’s use of force in the Gaza Strip and casts a spotlight on the United Kingdom’s complicity in Israeli war crimes.

In 2009, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband confirmed that Israeli military equipment used in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead – which killed over 1,400 Palestinians -- “almost certainly” contained UK-supplied components, reinforcing concerns issued by Amnesty International the same year.

Despite this admission, in the six months leading up to the 2014 conflict in July, the British government approved over $10 million worth of military licenses and $39,000,000 for dual-use equipment to Israel, according to figures produced by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) found.

The licenses included components for drones, combat aircraft, targeting equipment and weapon sights, and a review by the UK’s Department of Business in August 2014 -- during one of many broken ceasefires -- found that at least 12 contained components used during the war.

Despite the UK government’s own findings, not a single license was suspended, and from September 2014 to December 2014, the UK licensed 4 million worth of arms exports to Israel, according to figures collected by CAAT, War on Want, and Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“More than 2,000 people died in Israel's bombardment of Gaza, and yet in the months immediately following the conflict it was business as usual for the UK government and the arms companies they support,” Andrew Smith from CAAT said.

There were also 36 licenses to third party countries for weapons being sold to Israel --including components for surface-to-surface missiles, combat helicopters and military communications equipment – which are almost certain to be used in any future military escalation in the Gaza Strip.

"The bombardment of Gaza created a humanitarian catastrophe, and UK arms companies were among those that profited,” Smith told Ma’an.

The report called for a ban on all arms imports from Israel, a ban on UK government facilitation of Israeli arms exports -- through the participation of Israeli companies in arms fairs -- and a ban on collaboration between UK companies and Israel military, or any activity by a UK-based company which supports the "infrastructure of Israel's occupation."

"These arms sales do not just provide military support, they also provide a political support for the oppression of Palestinians," Smith said.

"We are calling for an embargo on all military exports to, and military collaboration with, Israel."

The reports finding’s are particularly alarming given the unprecedented use of military firepower in the Gaza Strip last summer -- Israel was the largest state user of explosive weapons in 2014 -- which left virtually no area of the besieged coastal enclave untouched by death or damage.

Israel launched over 6,000 airstrikes and fired 50,000 artillery shells into the densely populated coastal territory during the war, representing a 533 percent increase from artillery use in Operation Cast Lead and averaging 680 shells fired into Gaza each day of the conflict.

Gaza accounted for a staggering 35 percent of global fatalities from aerial explosives – including missiles fired from Israeli drones produced by Elbit Systems – with over 53 percent of the total fatalities caused by Israeli explosives in which UK-produced components were likely used.

The statistics also reinforce findings from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza war, which decried the "huge firepower" used in Gaza, causing unprecedented “devastation and human suffering.”

The commission particularly criticized Israel's practice of aerial attacks, arguing that the fact Israel has not revised its practice despite civilian fatalities raises questions about whether it was part of a "broader policy" approved at the highest levels of government.

Israel's foreign ministry dismissed the report as "politically motivated and morally flawed from the outset," and insisted the country's military acted appropriately.

Charlie Hoyle

Ma'an News, 3 juli 2015

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