Elbit Systems’ arms factory in Oldham shut down following fierce campaign

The Palestine Action group carried out a series of direct actions as part of their campaign such as occupying, blockading, and vandalizing the factory which were ultimately instrumental in forcing its sale and closure

January 11, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Palestine Action activists splattered the Elbit Systems factory in Oldham with red paint to symbolize the Palestinian blood and lives that have been shed over the decades with the help of Elbit’s weapons and technologies. Photo: Palestine Action

Palestinian solidarity activists in Britain scored a crucial victory with the closure of Israel’s Elbit Systems arms manufacturing facility in Oldham, Greater Manchester. The news was announced on Monday January 10 by Palestine Action, a Palestinian solidarity and direct-action group that had been waging a campaign against the factory since August 2020.

Elbit Systems announced earlier on January 10 that it was selling its Elbit Ferranti factory in Oldham to UK-based TT electronics for a sum of approximately $12 million. Elbit is infamous for manufacturing parts for Israeli drones and other pilotless aircrafts. These aircrafts are used by the Israeli military in attacks against Palestinians, including in Israeli air strikes against Gaza. Apart from Oldham, Elbit has nine other manufacturing sites still operating within the country.

The campaign against Elbit’s Oldham factory made headlines for the creative direct action measures taken to draw attention to Elbit’s participation in Israeli crimes against Palestinians. Over the last 18 months activists occupied the facility, organized a human blockade by locking themselves onto the front gates to prevent workers from going inside the factory, and blocked off roads using vehicles leading up to the factory. They also regularly broke the glass windows of the factory and inflicted damage to other parts of the factory such as the air vents, roof etc.

The direct action campaign, which was carried out even with the company taking several measures to improve security and arrangements made for a rapid police response, resulted in the arrest of 36 of the group’s activists. To date not a single one of the arrested activists has been successfully held guilty or convicted of any crimes.

One of the most symbolically important actions taken by Palestine Action was to spray paint the factory’s premises and equipment with red paint. According to activists, the red paint was to symbolize the Palestinian blood and lives that have been shed over the decades with the help of Elbit’s weapons and technologies.

The actions taken by Palestine Action, often in collaboration with other solidarity and peace groups, such as XR North, Oldham Peace & Justice group, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, resulted in massive financial losses to the company estimated to be more than 650,000 UK pounds. They also regularly forced factory closures for weeks on end, disrupting production. As early as November 2021, the factory was already issuing mass redundancy notices and making preparations to leave the site.

In a statement following its victorious campaign, Palestine Action said that “this news vindicates our long-term strategy. Direct action works – the brave individuals who occupied the factory over the past year can proudly say that drone technologies are no longer in production in Oldham.”

Huda Ammori, the co-founder of Palestine Action, told Electronic Intifada that despite Elbit Systems insisting that the sale was part of a “reorganization” to “consolidate its market position”, it was “an absolutely tremendous victory” which she said “shows the power of the people when they come together.” She further added that even though Elbit Systems being based in the UK is currently beneficial for the Israeli arms trade industry, in the long run, it would be “also be their biggest downfall because the people here will not stand for it.” According to Ammori, the group plans to continue with its campaigns of direct action against the remaining nine Elbit sites until “they’re forced out of Britain for good.”

The closure and sale of the Oldham factory was celebrated by several well known pro-Palestine activists and solidarity groups on social media. The Palestine-based Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement released a statement hailing the victory as “another step to end Israeli apartheid”. It added “the closure of Elbit’s Oldham factory should inspire human rights campaigners worldwide to escalate strategic campaigning to raise the price for Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid and for all the companies and institutions that enable its crimes against Indigenous Palestinians.”

Rapper and activist Lowkey called it “an important victory worth celebrating”. Roger Waters wrote “Hats off to our brothers and sisters of Palestine Action!! You did it, we are proud to stand alongside you.”

The 10 Elbit sites that still remain inside the UK employ about 500 people producing high-tech and specialist manufacturing activities for military and civilian uses. Several of these sites have also been targeted with actions by the Palestine Action group, such as the Shenstone facility in Staffordshire. Palestine Action has vowed to continue its campaigns against the other sites until they also meet the same fate as the one in Oldham.