Drone manufacturers linked to Gaza war cross-examined in Scottish courts
After a gruelling fourteen day trial, a group of activists known as the Thales Ten,* received their verdict in Glasgow Sheriff Court last week. Five were convicted, and five acquitted, of the crime of breach of the peace.
The group scaled onto the roof and blockaded entrances to the Thales UK factory on 23rd September, 2014 in response to the war in Gaza. They hung a fifty foot Palestine flag and several banners. One read: ‘Another Scotland is Possible: Stop Arming Israel’. Another made the connection between the French arms company Thales, Israel’s Elbit Systems, and the UK Ministry of Defence.
The UK Government and the French and Israeli arms giants are cooperating over the delivery of the next generation of Watchkeeper drones. This evolution in unmanned aerial warfare will replace the Hermes drone, which has been used to deadly effect all over the world, notably in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Palestine. A common sight over the skies of the Gaza Strip, drones are frequently used by the Israeli occupation forces to survey and launch deadly attacks against Palestinians. Human Rights Watch documented 87 killings through drone strikes on the Gaza Strip during the Israeli named ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-9.
In a major victory for Palestine activists against the arms industry, a member of Thales senior management was summoned by the Scottish courts to answer questions as to the nature of their business. Activists cross-examined a Senior Manager of Thales UK, Ian Lindsay, in their defence. Mr Lindsay admitted that components manufactured on the Clyde in Glasgow are used in military drones.
Glasgow Palestine Action: “We have established that the UK Government are in cooperation with Thales and Elbit who are the largest arms manufacturer in Israel and are producing the next generation of Watchkeeper drones and we also established that components for that project are produced in Glasgow – is that correct?”
Mr Lindsay (Thales) “For Watchkeeper, yes.”
Glasgow Palestine Action: “So when you said we were labouring under the misapprehension that components for drones were made at the Glasgow site was that incorrect?”
Mr Lindsay (Thales): “I said you were labouring under the misapprehension that munitions were made at the plant.”
Glasgow Palestine Action: “But you do manufacturer components for drones at the plant in Glasgow?”
Mr Lindsay (Thales): “We do.”
This is a major admission for a number of reasons. The local community regard Thales as highly secretive as to what is manufactured in the plant. This is significant because in addition to a long history of weaponry and munitions manufactured on the Clyde, there is also a history of resistance. In 1974, Scottish workers at Rolls Royce plant in East Kilbride refused to service engines bound for Pinochet’s coup of Salvador Allende. An act that later saw Bob Fulton, John Keenan and Robert Somervilleawarded the highest honour by the Chilean Government.
It is also significant because it is rare that arms companies are called to face the courts as to the nature and legality of their business. In August, 2014, nine Palestine activists shut down a subsidiary, Elbit, UAV Engines Ltd. in Shenstone, England. Despite being charged with aggravated trespass, the Crown Prosecution Service dropped the case. It is widely believed that this was due to external pressure to avoid the arms companies being called upon to speak to the nature and legalities of their business.
According to their own trade regulations, the UK is not allowed to sell arms to countries that violate international law. Concerning arms sales, criterion six of the Consolidated EU and National Export Licensing Criteria compels the British government to take into account the buyer’s respect for international law. The United Nations mandated Goldstone Report, investigating the conduct of the belligerents during ‘Operation Cast Lead’, contained damning evidence of Israel’s violations of international law.
In a Ministerial Statement on 21 April 2009, then Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband admitted that Israeli equipment used in Gaza in the 2008-9 conflict “almost certainly” contained UK-supplied components. One of the ways the UK government circumnavigates its own trade restrictions on arms is by selling components of weapons to be assembled into deadly weapons in other countries.
It is believed that the CPS dropped the Shenstone case is because activists were arrested for aggravated trespass, a charge which is based on the disruption of “lawful activity”. Had the case gone to trial, the nature legality of UAV Engines’s business would have been put under the microscope in a court of law. Something the British Government has a clear interest in preventing.
In the case of the Thales Ten, activists could not probe the legality of Thales business. The alleged crime was the breach of the peace (which does not exist in England): the only requirement for a conviction is the probability that fear and alarm could be caused to an individual, or that a serious community disturbance is likely. Delving into the legality of Thales business was deemed irrelevant to the case. However, activists were able to establish a clear link in court between Thales, Elbit Systems and the MOD, and also drone components manufactured in Scotland, and alleged war crimes in Gaza.
After the conclusion of the case, Glasgow Palestine Action vowed to keep up the pressure on Thales and other arms manufacturers in Scotland. A member of the group, Frida Grey said:
“Today was a major victory for Palestine activism in Scotland. We hauled Thales into court. We made them admit that they manufacture components of drones on the Clyde, and we confronted them with the devastating consequences of their business, in Gaza, and all over the world. There has never been a better time for us to push for an arms embargo on Israel, and boycott, divestment and sanctions against all companies which seek to profit from the devastation meted out on the people of Palestine.”
After the last Gaza war, Scottish Minister for External Affairs, Humza Yousaf, called on an arms embargo on Israel:
“The Scottish Government has demonstrated that we cannot stand idly by while innocent civilians are being killed. I am today, on behalf of the Scottish Government, calling for an immediate suspension of arms sales to Israel.”
The arms industry in Israel and its connection to Western economies is a major driver and sustaining force in the occupation, colonial and apartheid conditions in Palestine. The question for activists in Scotland (and across the UK) is given the Scottish Government’s stance regarding an arms embargo on Israel, is how can this be progressively exploited? Under the Scotland Act, trade is devolved to Westminster, however, with the political climate so charged for change, what more can be achieved towards justice for Palestine?
* The Thales Ten are members of Glasgow Palestine Action, a women, queer and trans*-led group, organizing and taking action against Israeli apartheid through boycott, divestment, sanctions, and other solidarity work.