Siege of Israeli-Owned Drone Factory in Leicester Continues Despite Nearly 50 Arrests
Activists from Palestinian Action continue their protests around the Elbit-owned UAV company to mark 75 years since the ‘nakba’ displacement
Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
A direct action group marked the 75th-anniversary commemoration of the Nakba by continuing its siege of a drone factory owned and operated by Israel’s largest weapons company.
Hundreds of Palestine Action members and supporters have descended on Meridian Business Park in Leicester every day since 1 May in an attempt to force the Elbit-owned UAV Tactical Systems (U-TacS) factory to shut down.
The siege intends to sever what Palestine Action describes as the apparatus of the Israeli military working from Britain: “Protests, petitions and all appeals to the British establishment to end their century-long complicity have failed.
“However, the mass movement of people willing to mobilise to shut Elbit down demonstrates that the route to victory lies with the people – and not with the powers that be. We will resist until we win.”
The fifteenth day (15 May) of the siege also marked 75 years since the Palestinian displacement during the establishment of Israel in 1948.
The Nakba, which is Arabic for catastrophe, marks the violent expulsion of approximately three quarters of all Palestinians from their homes and homeland by Zionist militias and the new Israeli army during the state of Israel’s establishment.
More than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed from over 500 villages and cities in historic Palestine, never to return.
Many Palestinians and human rights groups insist it is also an ongoing process characterised by lasting forms of state-sanctioned violence, which has been described as apartheid by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and B’Tselem.
However, Israeli officials and pro-Israel activists have repeatedly rejected the term Nakba. In December 2020, Israel’s new Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tzipi Hotovely, used her first speech to describe the Nakba as “a very popular Arab lie” and a “a made up story”.
As a result, Israeli authorities have sought to eradicate any public references to the Nakba, by passing laws to ban the use of this word in textbooks for Palestinian children, and adopting a law prohibiting institutions from holding any events commemorating the Nakba.
‘The War Machine’
Support for the commemoration in the UK appears to be strong, as thousands of activists joined in solidarity with a separate march in London organised by Palestine Solidarity UK.
At the same time, on the ground in Leicester on Saturday, musician Lowkey addressed hundreds of supporters in a defiant tone. He said: “Israel thinks our communities have given our consent to this relationship with the war machine. We haven’t.”
Organisations such as War on Want, and Campaign Against Arms Trade have documented the scale of U-TacS’ role in that “war machine”.
The firm’s drone factory is owned and operated by Israel’s largest weapons company, Elbit Systems, in partnership with French arms firm Thales. Its flagship product is the Watchkeeper drone, modelled on the Hermes 450 after the latter was “battle-tested” on Palestinians.
Despite insisting that they only sell to the British military, U-TacS exports around £5m worth of military equipment to Israel yearly, consisting primarily of drones and their components, alongside targeting and surveillance technologies.
In total, Elbit manufactures 85% of Israel’s military drone fleet. Neither Elbit nor U-TacS responded to a request for comment.
In addition, Palestine Action activists also targeted the premises of Kuehne + Nagel, a global transport and logistics company known to partner with Elbit Systems that is opposite the weapons factory.
Activists smashed their way into the building, and covered the premises in spray paint, while taking apart office equipment including phones and computers. Kuehne + Nagel declined to comment.
An activist, who was arrested early on in the siege and wished to remain anonymous, told the Byline Times: “We’re here to show that just because the British establishment is part of that oppression of Palestinians through its support and relationship with Israel. That doesn’t mean we are.
“This is why we need a grassroots movement to bypass the government all together and come straight to the source of weapons production.”
‘An Abuse of Police Powers‘
So far, 46 people have been arrested since the start of the siege. There has been a heavy police presence on the ground, with riot vans deployed and a metal wall erected around the factory, but actionists, undeterred, have continued to arrive on the scene every day.
One Leicester resident, who has attended the siege in support over several days, told the Byline Times she had witnessed police conducting raids and arrests at random, smashing their way into parked cars under the premise of a search, and also threatened to arrest Muslim protestors for praying in the road as opposed to the pavement.
She said: “During the past week in Leicester, we’ve witnessed an abuse of police powers and the disproportionate use of violence against activists.”
In a number of statements, Leicestershire Police have defended their arrests so far under Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 (as amended by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022).
Assistant Chief Constable, Adam Streets, said: “The policing operation continues at the site to minimise disruption as much as we are able while facilitating the right to a peaceful protest. We continue to engage with the small number of people who are still protesting and have been very clear that if the Section 14 conditions are broken that people will be arrested.”
But a cross-parliamentary report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in June last year warned the legislation would have “a chilling effect on the right to peaceful protest, putting fundamental democratic rights at risk”.
Despite what she described as “intimidation tactics” used in policing the direct action, the resident from Leicester said the local community “still managed to hold it down”.
She added: “A lot of the time they [the police] have not made us feel safe but morale has been high and despite their actions, hundreds of new people turn up every day.”
Over the weekend, the Labour MP for Leicester East, Claudia Webbe, also shared her support for Palestine Action saying the action was both “necessary and justified” as the Nakba is” a continuing process of occupation and oppression”.
She added: “In the case of Palestine and the Israeli government’s oppression of the Palestinian people, the right thing is to boycott, divest and sanction companies that support and enable the illegal occupation and the murder of civilians.
“In the absence of the British government taking immediate action to end all sales of weapons that could be used unlawfully against Palestinian people, I believe direct action in the form of peaceful protest is justified.”
With the siege ongoing, activists in Newcastle and London staged two more protests. The Foreign Office was this morning sprayed with blood-red paint, and others targeted a Newcastle factory, newly purchased by Israeli state-owned weapons firm Rafael.
Actionists scaled the roof and began dismantling the premises, striking at property which according to Companies House, is owned by the Israeli Ministry of Finance.
At the same time, Palestine Action marked the city of Leicester in spray-painted Nakba 75 messages. The group added: “The Nakba never stopped, and neither has British complicity in it.”