Human rights activists in the UK are facing the suggestion by police that their actions against an Israeli weapons manufacturer could be considered as “terrorism.”
Emily Arnott from the group Palestine Action told The Electronic Intifada that she found the suggestion “absolutely ridiculous.”
Arnott confirmed that members of London’s Metropolitan Police recently interviewed her in a Manchester police station. A Metropolitan Police officer “implied that what Palestine Action is doing could be considered [to be] terrorism and that we could be charged under terrorist offenses,” she said.
The interviewing officer said the amount of damage allegedly caused by Palestine Action “could possibly push it into the remit of alleged terrorist offenses, but they would not be considered terrorist offenses at that time,” Arnott explained.
Arnott has been charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage against property belonging to Israel’s Elbit Systems in the UK and its property manager Jones Lang LaSalle.
According to court proceedings that took place last month, the charges are in relation to a series of direct actions that took place between 5 August and 16 December 2020.
Arnott’s alleged actions include pretending to be a delivery person to gain access to the properties of Elbit and LaSalle and spraying red paint on their walls.
“This is the police conspiring with Elbit to protect war criminals. Elbit, who produce drones, drones that are killing Palestinians every single day. Drones that were used in Gaza in 2014, to murder,” Arnott told The Electronic Intifada.
Approximately 2,220 Palestinians were fatally injured by Israel during that offensive, including 550 children.
Arnott was released on bail by Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London on 16 April, on the condition that she be electronically monitored and subjected to a curfew.
Palestine Action activist Richard Barnard, who is also facing multiple charges in relation to direct actions against Elbit and LaSalle, told The Electronic Intifada that he recently experienced something similar when questioned by London’s Metropolitan Police.
Detective Sergeant Mathew Hearing allegedly asked Barnard, during a police interview in East London: “You’re not a proscribed organization yet, but do you not agree that your actions are akin to terrorism?”
The Electronic Intifada put this to the Metropolitan Police and asked them to clarify their position on linking Palestine Action’s protests to terrorism. The police declined to comment.
The suggestion that Palestine Action’s activism was “akin to terrorism” was made to Barnard while he was being interviewed on suspicion of conspiracy to blackmail Elbit’s landlord, LaSalle.
“As far as I can work out they are using a video that we published where I declared a hunger strike until LaSalle investment management … evicted Elbit from their premises,” Barnard told The Electronic Intifada.
It is unclear who Barnard is accused of “conspiring” with.
As well as announcing a planned hunger strike, Barnard had called for activists to continue spraying red paint on the landlord’s offices to symbolize the blood of the Palestinian people, he said.
Barnard explained that the hunger strike had aimed at pricking the landlord’s conscience to evict Elbit, “as the red paint didn’t seem to have any effect.”
There are currently multiple cases involving a number of Palestine Action members being charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage, relating to their activities against Elbit and LaSalle in 2020 and 2021.
Barnard, along with five other activists, was scheduled to have a plea and trial preparation hearing on 28 April at London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court, in relation to charges of conspiracy to commit criminal damage.
But that hearing was pushed back indefinitely for reasons which remain unclear to the defendants.
In addition to providing drones to the Israeli military, Elbit supplies weapons systems to more than 30 different countries, according to Corporate Watch.
Elbit, which has a total of 10 factories and offices in the UK, has faced direct actions since 2014. The company has come under increasing pressure from Palestine Action since the activist group was formed in 2020.
These latest developments come as the British government is pushing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. If it becomes law, that bill will make it easier for authorities to restrict and shut down protests and arrest demonstrators, even if they are not being violent.
The bill’s provisions include a 10-year maximum prison sentence for causing “serious distress,” “serious annoyance,” or “serious inconvenience” and a 10-year maximum prison sentence for defacing a monument or statue.
The bill has faced intense push back with dozens of demonstrations throughout the country.
As of March, it is now legal for 15 government agencies – including all of the armed forces, police and intelligence agencies – to authorize undercover officers and assets to commit criminal offenses in the UK, following the passage of the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill.
Amendments were proposed to prohibit the authorization of crimes such as rape, torture and murder in the bill. But those amendments failed to win sufficient support from Britain’s lawmakers.