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Meet The Activists Fighting Zionism With Direct Action

Above photo: Activists from Palestine Action unfurl a banner saying Shut Elbit Down as they occupy scaffolding and spray paint the outside of the offices of Aerospace Defence Security on the Albert Embankment on March 28, 2023 in London, England. Martin Pope/Getty Images.

Palestine Action is waging an international campaign against Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest drone supplier.

And they want you to get involved.

With each passing day, more Israeli bombs are falling on Gaza. Over a million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes. The world is bearing witness to a genocidal military campaign to clear out Gaza once and for all. As leaders in the West continue to stand by Israel’s outrageous crimes, activists and people of conscience around the world are using direct action to take matters into their own hands and disrupt the war machine themselves. Palestine Action is one such group that is strategically targeting direct disruptive actions at production sites of Elbit Systems Ltd. and its subsidiaries. Elbit Systems is an Israel-based weapons technology and defense company supplying the Israeli military with the instruments of sophisticated carnage whose deadly force is being unleashed upon Palestinians as we speak. TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with Fergie Chambers, Max Geller, and Calla Walsh of Palestine Action.


Maximilian Alvarez:  Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network podcast. My name is Maximilian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News, and it’s so great to have you all with us.

With each passing day, more Israeli bombs are falling on Gaza. More bodies are being blown apart and buried under the rubble. Over 1 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes. The world has borne witness to a genocidal military campaign to clear out northern Gaza once and for all. And every day, every hour, it feels like the chance to stop one of humanity’s most inhumane crimes is slipping through our fingers.

And the powers that be have shown no interest whatsoever in listening to the thundering calls for a ceasefire coming from governments and mass demonstrations around the world — Particularly the Biden administration here in the US, the increasingly fascistic Netanyahu government in Israel, and the arms manufacturers and war profiteers who are raking in billions from manufacturing mass death.

This is prompting activists and people of conscience around the world to take direct action to try to disrupt the war machine themselves. Members of the Group Palestine Action, for instance, have been strategically targeting direct, disruptive actions at production sites of Elbit Systems Ltd. and its subsidiaries. Elbit Systems is an Israel-based weapons technology and defense company supplying the Israeli military with the instruments of sophisticated carnage whose deadly force is being unleashed upon Palestinians as we speak.

As they describe their own business on their own website, “We are an international high technology company engaged in a wide range of programs throughout the world, primarily in the defense and homeland security arenas. We,” that is Elbit Systems, “develop and supply a broad portfolio of airborne land and naval systems and products for defense, homeland security, and commercial applications. In addition, we provide a range of training and support services.

“Our military activities include military aircraft and helicopter systems, commercial aviation systems and aero structures, unmanned aircraft systems, electro-optic night vision and countermeasures systems, naval systems, land vehicle systems, munitions, command control, communications, computer intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and cyber systems, electronic warfare and signal intelligence systems, and other commercial activities.”

For The Real News podcast, I recently got to speak with Calla Walsh and Fergie Chambers of Palestine Action US, who recently participated in a demonstration outside of the Elbit Systems office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And I also got to speak with Max Geller, a member of Palestine Action UK, who recently participated in another direct action at the Instro Precision factory in Kent, England. Here’s my conversation with Max, Calla, and Fergie.

Max Geller:  My name is Max. I am based in London, and I organize with Palestine Action.

Calla Walsh:  My name is Calla. I’m based in Boston, Massachusetts, and I’m an organizer with Palestine Action US.

Fergie Chambers:  My name is Fergie. I’m based in New Hampshire, Boston, Atlanta, and I’m also an organizer with Palestine Action US.

Maximilian Alvarez:  Well, Max, Calla, Fergie, thank you all so much for joining us today on The Real News Network. I really, really appreciate it, especially with everything going on right now, not only with the fallout of the actions that we’re going to talk about today, but everything else. The Fight against Cop City, more actions in solidarity with Palestine, calling for a ceasefire, calling for an end to the occupation. There’s a lot of work to be done and y’all are out there doing it, and so I really appreciate you making time to sit down and chat with us.

I know we don’t have a whole lot of time, but I gave folks in the introduction a quick breakdown of the direct actions that y’all were involved in, spanning the Atlantic from the US here to the UK across the pond. As folks who listened to and watched The Real News know, and as I mentioned in the intro, we did host a livestream recently with two folks from the Workers for a Free Palestine coalition in the UK who were also there at the arms factory in Kent, owned by in Instro Precision, which is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems.

But we wanted to follow up on that interview and give folks an even broader perspective on that day’s actions, and also to talk about the other actions that were happening at the same time, and from more people who were there on the ground involved in it.

So Max, I was wondering if we could start with you, and I want to give people an on-the-ground breakdown of how these actions came together, how you all were involved, what it was like on the day, and just take us there. Just take people there from start to finish about where these actions came from, how you were involved, why they’re important. And then we’ll go to Calla and Fergie.

Max Geller:  Totally. I just want to say that the people you talked to in your last episode about the Kent factory were incredible, and that action was really beautiful. Hundreds of workers doing a picket outside of that weapons factory halted production there for the day. And when you halt production at one of the UK’s Elbit sites, you really throw a wrench into their whole system. There’s a very detailed network where parts are needed that are made in one site and then shipped to another site. So if you stop production at one, you mess up the whole schedule.

And I did an action at the same place, but I did it with… I was one of four people, and we used lock-ons to chain ourselves to the gates and achieved with four people the same result that 400 did last week. Now, it’s worth mentioning that we’re seeing, all around the world, people starting to wisen up to Palestine Action, direct action tactics. Even this morning in Toronto, we saw a weapons factory there blockaded for the very first time. We’ve seen ships carrying weapons blocked around the US and in Europe. Everyone who’s listening to this podcast has been seeing the same images on their phone of just absolute unthinkable violence.

And Palestine Action empowers people to actually make a material difference in this war on Palestine. I have marched for years and years and years, but it wasn’t until joining Palestine Action and actually shutting down these weapons factories that I’ve actually felt like I’m making a difference and actually have power to impact what I’m seeing on my phone.

Fergie Chambers:  So Palestine Action US is something that’s come into existence in the last month. We had a relationship with Max. I’ve known Max for a long time because of Palestine and because of Boston. And we had the link to the organizing going on in the UK. We knew for a long time that Elbit was present in the US in New England, in Cambridge, but the pieces hadn’t really been put together. And perhaps the mass political moment wasn’t there in this country.

But when we decided to target the Elbit location in Cambridge on Oct. 12, it wasn’t even as Palestine Action anything. It was a couple of people who knew Palestine Action UK that had connections to Cambridge deciding to target that building in the wake of what was developing in Gaza.

And mind you, at this point… Well, the first major hospital bombing had not even occurred. We had not seen 10,000 deaths. We had just seen the beginning. So we did a lockdown, we hit the front of it with a lot of paint and messaging, and basically evaded arrest in that instance. And in the wake of that, with the positive PR behind it, especially from the Palestinian movement, from the feedback from the comrades in the UK, it felt appropriate to launch the US campaign in the wake of that.

And since then, again, we’re an affinity network. So it’s not like us as the folks who were the founding organizers are coordinating everything everyone does or telling people to go break the law somewhere. We’re an affinity network. We share ideas, we share an affinity for direct action and an opposition to the occupation, and specifically this ongoing genocide. So people have come up in that network, and at least half a dozen times that Cambridge location has been targeted in one way or another.

We called a mass action about a week ago where a couple hundred people flooded up to the office. And at one point, police started arresting people at random, throwing them on the ground, accusing them of assaulting them and so forth. And then we saw actions one night after the march in DC in Arlington, Virginia, in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, and again in Cambridge.

And this is what we’re really asking, or what we’re hoping for is that people take up these tactics in regional chapters everywhere in the country where Elbit is, that we develop focused targeting of other targets, especially west of the Mississippi where Elbit is not, but focus targets. Because if we just hit Raytheon and Boeing and BlackRock and The New York Times and every other day, we’re not mounting a strategic campaign. Again, people are using the language of “shut it down” a lot, which, in my experience, really started around the Ferguson moment about 10 years ago, that let’s shut it down because people were shutting down commerce to shed light on police violence.

In the movement since then, we hear “shut it down” every time someone holds a sign up. And it’s valiant to go into places to harass senators, to list names. But in the end, we’re still not really challenging power in a direct way that, as Max illustrated, is affecting their operations, affecting their bottom line, affecting their ability to process the war machine and make money off of it.

So we’re really hoping, without even giving our opinion on the strategic or political developments that should or shouldn’t happen with the US government, we’re saying we want to take very direct material action against the complex that enables this genocide and the US empire broadly. So it’s not just one action, and it’s not just one type of action, but it’s action that’s meaningful, and it’s action that is bringing into focus why we’re doing the action, and not the risks being taken by the people doing the actions, not the legal battles they get into. That’s not the story. We’re comfortable. We should be less comfortable. And that’s the way we see this.

Maximilian Alvarez:  Well, building on that, I was wondering if we could, for folks who are listening to this, say a little more about that, particularly a little more about Palestine Action itself. Because as we’ve been talking about on The Real News week in week out, resistance is cropping up everywhere. Even now, folks in their unions are taking a stronger stand. We know that some unions have been at the forefront, like the Transport Workers Unions in Belgium, who have told their members not to unload cargo carrying military equipment headed for Israel. I interviewed a rank and file healthcare worker in New York leading a vigil in solidarity with murdered healthcare colleagues in Gaza. Folks are flooding their congressional representatives with calls for a ceasefire.

Now, so far it feels like the powers that be, particularly in Washington DC, are doing everything they can not to listen to people’s demands for a ceasefire and an end to this genocidal violence and the 75-year occupation of Palestine. But again, it’s going to take a lot of people doing what they can in their respective locale.

So I wanted to ask, for folks who are listening to this who are maybe just hearing about Palestine Action, what is it? Could you say a little more about that, and say a little more about that strategy of direct action? Everyone has, like I said, a pathway into getting involved, even if that’s just calling your representative, all the way up to direct action that materially disrupts the productive systems that lead to weapons being shipped off to Israel and being used to bomb hospitals, kill children, civilians, so on and so forth. So I just wanted to ask if we could say a little more about that for folks who are trying to make sense of all the different groups’ names that they’re hearing about and the different forms of resistance that they’re seeing around the country and beyond.

Calla Walsh:  Yeah. Well, we work with a wide variety of different tactics and collaborate with many different groups, whether they’re explicitly Palestine focused or not. We see the interconnectedness between all these different struggles.

But like Max, I’m someone who’s been involved in this Palestine solidarity movement for a few years. I’ve done the lobbying, I’ve done the congressional advocacy, I’ve done the local government advocacy. We’ve done boycotts, we’ve done petitions, we’ve done public rallies, we’ve done mass marches. And it’s not to say there isn’t any value in those tactics. There absolutely is. But this moment demands so much more. We’re not just going to be politely asking our senators and representatives to stop sending weapons to Israel. We are going to put our bodies on the line and say, we are stopping these weapons from going to Israel, and we dare you to stop us.

And that’s also part of an equation we have where we understand that the billions and billions of people in this world stand on the side of Palestine. And there is a very small minority group of extreme Zionists, imperialists, the US ruling class, who are the only reason Israel is maintaining its existence. And we don’t expect Palestine to be liberated because this imperialist ruling class, because the US senators whose entire campaign budgets come from APAC and the weapons industry, Palestine is not going to be liberated because these people suddenly wake up one day and have some moral awakening and realize that what all of their material interests are invested in is bad. That’s just not going to happen.

And it isn’t to say that there isn’t value in putting pressure on the ruling class and putting pressure on our government, but that’s where we see room for direct action and for mass mobilization, especially of the groups you mentioned like trade unions. There’s an international call by Palestinian labor organizers for unions across the world to refuse to ship Israeli weapons and goods. And so we are aligned with that call. We are aligned with the people on the ground in Palestine who are resisting the occupation, and we think it is our utmost duty to be doing the same and to be resisting right here in the belly of the beast.

Fergie Chambers:  I would just throw in, too, because it was mentioned, that our campaign is around ending the occupation and a genocide that’s been going on for a century. Any ceasefire doesn’t negate that. And the demand for a ceasefire, which frames the citizens of the imperial corps as the arbiters of resolution and retribution for this genocide, I think, is limited. We would not oppose, organizationally or personally, any cessation to the carnage that’s going on, but we would wish to spotlight that the resolution and agency lies with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance. Not with any congress makers, not with bourgeois citizens of the US doing sit-ins demanding this or that policy, but with the autonomous decision of the Palestinian people. I think that’s important to say.

Max Geller:  I think it’s important to understand the company that we’re targeting here. One of the reasons Palestine Action has been so successful is that we’re singularly focused. Our direct actions pretty much exclusively target this one company. Elbit Systems is Israel’s largest weapons company. It makes 85% of Israel’s drone fleet. You can go on their social media right now and watch how they boast of the parastatal role they’re playing in this genocidal war on Gaza. They boast of going on bombing missions. They boast on assisting the Israeli army in its operations. It is, quite frankly, one of the most evil companies on Earth. Israel’s weapons find their way into the hands of the most repressive regimes on Earth. These drones buzzed over Kashmir and over Armenia during the most recent ethnic cleansing. To understand the role Israel plays in US imperialism can be seen in the flow of its weapons, and Elbit’s weapons flow more than anyone else’s.

I think, in your question, you are talking about different ways of exerting pressure on the powers that be. Palestine Action’s position is that we will be exerting the pressure ourselves and daring the powers that be to stop us. I like the way Calla said that earlier. I think the important thing here is that we can’t sit around and wait for governments in the imperial corps to gain a moral conscience. We need to make the flow of these weapons stop, and we are powerful enough to do that on our own. It doesn’t take hundreds of people to shut down a factory. It takes a few people with a good plan.

And I think that’s why Palestine Action has been so successful and we’ve seen the ability to recreate these actions around the country in a short period of time, both around the US and around the UK. Because all that is really required is a few friends and a willingness to be brave and cunning. And with just those few things, we can make a material impact in the weapons trade.

Even though the news is so grim, I do feel like I’m bringing good news to the podcast. There’s really good news to share with everybody and that is, around the world, small groups of people are making a big difference by their willingness to sacrifice their own comfort for just a little while, and I think the moment requires that of us.

Maximilian Alvarez:  Let’s round out on that point because I want to give folks listening, with the last five minutes that I’ve got you here, a sense of what comes next, and also what has happened since the actions that y’all were involved in. Because as we know, in terms of daring the powers that be to stop you, the powers that be are going to try. And there is a McCarthyite fog, a heavy fog that is set over the country. People are getting fired from their jobs. I know that as Truthout reported, there were folks who were arrested at a recent demonstration in Cambridge at Elbit’s headquarters.

We’re already seeing what the state’s response to mass protest from 2020 is. It’s building things like Cop City. So I want to give people a sense of the blowback, but also give them a sense of the pushback on the other side, the momentum that is building for more folks to take these kinds of actions. So if we could cover those in the last few minutes, what has happened in terms of the blowback from the police or elsewhere, and what comes next for Palestine Action here in the US and beyond?

Calla Walsh:  Well, I think the most important point to highlight is that Elbit’s stocks have been dropping consistently since Oct. 7, while every other major defense contractor’s stocks are skyrocketing, and that is because of the relentless direct action campaign. Every time we shut down a factory, even for a few hours, it costs Elbit time, money, and resources. Even if we’re a few people throwing paint at a building, the top executives of Elbit are freaking out when that happens, especially when, as happened in the US a few days ago, three locations in different states are hit by different groups all in one night. So of course we expect the state to try to crack down on any resistance, as they have been for decades, even more so maybe than in the UK because it is a different legal system.

I have someone who’s been getting doxxed, getting called a terrorist, getting called an antisemite for years. And to be honest, I think as people in the West, this kind of blow back is the very, very bottom of the ladder compared to what people are experiencing if we’re talking about relativity on the global scale, and it’s the very, very least we can do to get locked up in a cell for a few hours compared to Palestinians who are being bombed and genocided every single day.

So I was one of the people arrested at the action in Cambridge on Monday, Oct. 30. I also have charges from our first action on Oct. 12. I’m 19. I don’t like locking myself to buildings in my free time. That’s not what I do. I’d rather be hanging out with my friends. But the reality is there’s a genocide going on, and it’s about time we put our bodies on the line. And so when I was in jail, what I was thinking was that I would be ready to do it again and again and again and again until we shut these factories down.

And anyone listening who has an Elbit factory or another genocide profiteer in their neighborhood, we encourage you to take action right now to get organized and shut it down. And the more and more people that are doing this, the less politically feasible it is for them to charge us and for them to crack down on us. Because the reality is the vast, vast majority of humanity stands with Palestine and stands on the right side of history.

Fergie Chambers:  Yeah, that’s the main point of focus as we orient ourselves to a legal strategy or something like that. There have been many direct action movements which have been very effective that were done almost entirely in the shadows. There have been smaller instances of crews doing things like that. But I think we believe that this is one of these cases where the visibility of the moment internationally and nationally together with the visibility of even the specific campaign that we’ve launched in this country, because of what they did already in the UK, because of some of the networks that we had just from organizing here in the US, that the combination of these factors with the concrete facts of what is happening in Gaza are enough to push the envelope on what we can do publicly without losing public support.

In a lot of instances that may be appropriate for direct action, unfortunately, the sort of propagandized American public will pay no mind to certain types of direct action or think that it’s kind of distasteful and not want to get near that. We’re not seeing that here. We are seeing people of some conscience who are understanding the very basic premise that human life is more valuable than property. And this is a discussion of course, that’s been going on all throughout the last decade in talking about Ferguson and Standing Rock and George Floyd, and I think people are really beginning to absorb that.

So again, we understand there will be legal challenges to face. We’re not trying to get arrested haphazardly. No one’s trying to do that to spend money. And again, not to make a spectacle of our own struggle, because our own struggle is not what’s important. But if they want to come at us in the hardest way they can, then that’s a fight that we’re prepared to fight because we understand that we’re on the right side of history, and so are the people.

And I should say that I also come from a different political collective that does a lot of funding legal support for direct action against imperialism. And we step into this saying to our comrades that if folks are called to take direct action, there is capital support for legal funds, for bail funds behind this that we will stand behind.

Maximilian Alvarez:  Max, anything to add before you take off?

Max Geller:  I’m afraid not. I got to go.

Maximilian Alvarez:  Awesome. Thank you so much everyone. Really appreciate that. Cala, anything else you guys wanted to add to round out?

Fergie Chambers:  Well, yeah, so as an aside, I think maybe the focal point of the domestic movement against the violent arms of the state here in the US right now this year has been the fight in Atlanta to stop Cop City. And right now we have a four-day mass mobilization called Block Cop City where there are lots of events and trainings going on, and there’s a call to mass action on Monday. So we’ve come down as a Palestine action contingency to participate in all of that. I also spent a decade organizing in anti-police work in Atlanta. This is really my background coming up in this.

So those of us who have organized in Atlanta understand that the occupation is an integral piece of the militarized police state in Atlanta, because Atlanta plays host to the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, GILEE, which is the largest cross-training program from Zionist and American cops. And it’s been housed at Georgia State University for more than 30 years by now.

Some of us who just made FOIA requests 10 years ago had feds show up at people’s doors for the sake of trying to find information on this program. Not to mention that a lot of the power brokers who are heavily invested in Cop City, including my family’s company, Cox Enterprises, including Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Bernie Marcus is an individual funder of the IDF beyond anybody in the US that I’m aware of through the FIDF. All of those same supporters who are heavily invested in Cop City are heavily invested in the occupation and in Israeli businesses.

And they are building Cop City to do cross-training with Israeli cops. So if we can link, really, the front lines of the most radical movements in the West, the most committed direct action movements, and link together those pillars of struggle the way that the empire has linked together their pillars of capital — They’re aligned with each other. If we are aligned with each other in this way and we are willing to escalate and move together, they can’t stop us. And so this feels like a crucial moment of engagement in linking those two struggles with every other struggle on earth, because our strength is always in our numbers. There will always be more of us internationally than there are of them trying to push our struggle back. The people’s struggle, not Palestine Action. The whole thing.

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