Going to court as the accusers not the accused, seven defendants who entered the EDO arms factory in January 2009 and destroyed over £189,000 worth of material used in the production of weapon components were found not guilty of conspiracy to commit criminal damage by a jury in Hove Crown Court on 30 June and 2 July.
Despite attempts by the prosecution to disassociate EDO from its dealings with Israel and label the defendants as criminals, it was EDO-MBM that was taken to trial and exposed as a supporter of war crimes.
As Ornella Saibene, one of the decommissioners, put it: “Faced with the truth, without the lacing of propaganda, 12 ordinary men and women stood with us.”
The unanimous verdict of the jury is testament to the strength of opposition to the crimes that Israel committed during the Gaza massacre, and continues to commit against the people of Palestine.
The decommissioners’ action
In the early hours of 17 January 2009, as white phosphorous rained down over Gaza and F16s carried out air strike after air strike on Gaza’s 1.7 million people, five activists from Bristol and two from Brighton entered the EDO arms factory in Brighton with the express intention of decommissioning it to prevent it supplying further armaments to the criminal Israeli forces.
As Robert Nicholls, one of the decommissioners, stated on the video recordings they took before entering the factory:
“This is a brief note I’m going to submit to the local constabulary, when they eventually arrest us. The Israeli Defence Force is guilty of war crimes in Gaza. EDO and many other arms manufacturers around the United Kingdom are aiding and abetting the commission of these humanitarian crimes and war crimes. The action we have taken is intended to hamper or delay the commission of war crimes and prevent this greater crime.”
The decommissioners, seeing that the so-called international community were continuing to do nothing to stop Israel’s massacre, took matters into their own hands, putting a spanner in the works of the war machine.
Eighteen months after the decommissioners were arrested, during which time two of them were held on remand in prison while the others were bound by bail conditions that limited their movements and abilities to organise, and after two delays in their trial date, the case hearing finally started on 7 June 2010.
Charged with conspiracy to commit criminal damage, the defendants took the stand admitting they had deliberately sabotaged the factory.
Using the legal argument of ‘lawful excuse’, the decommissioners set out to prove that they had acted in a reasonable and measured way in order to prevent an immediate threat to property belonging to another, in this case that of the people of Gaza.
The defendants also used the defence of necessity, which, in a similar way to ‘lawful excuse’, deals with a crime that is carried out in order to avoid a threat of death or serious injury to others, so long as the act is deemed reasonable and proportionate. By the time the decommissioners entered the EDO factory, Israel had murdered nearly 1,400 Palestinians, including over 350 children.
On the basis of this defence, having admitted to undertaking the damage, the decomissioners had to prove the connection between EDO-MBM and Israel, and to show that their actions were necessary to prevent the commission of further war crimes by Israel through the supply of EDO-MBM components.
Having come to court with the intention of presenting the company as primarily manufacturing in-flight entertainment equipment, EDO’s managing director Paul Hills was faced with five days of grilling over the company’s dealings with Israel.
Faced with a dossier of information complied over several years by the Smash EDO campaign, Paul Hills was forced to admit that the company have owned the rights to manufacture the main bomb rack used on the Israeli F16 fighter planes since 1998. He also admitted that, under pressure from the continued presence of the Smash EDO campaign, information on the company website had been adjusted to remove references connecting EDO to Israel.
The defence called upon expert witnesses, including Sharyn Lock, who had been working at Al Quds hospital during the massacre, and Green MP Caroline Lucas, who gave accounts of the conditions within Gaza both during and before Israel launched its attack on 27 December 2008.
With such a weight of evidence on their side, when the defendants took the stand, rather than being brow beaten by the prosecution, they were able to clearly make the case for the actions they had undertaken. Indeed, Ornella Saibene told Proletarian that she “enjoyed being prosecuted as the prosecutor’s arguments were quite feeble, so it was easy to stick my ground”.
A trial that was meant to put seven defendants in the dock for criminal damage has instead resulted in British arms manufactures coming under scrutiny, along with the war crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the state of Israel and British complicity in those crimes.
The judge’s summation of the trial is well worth a read. A rare occurrence in British judicial history, especially when compared to the way in which the Gaza protestors were dealt with, the judge gave a very frank and even-handed overview of the case and the context in which the action took place. (See thejc.com/node/35771)
Yet Judge Bathurst-Norman is by no means seen as a ‘soft’ judge who would have been expected to be sympathetic to the cause; in the past, he handed down a sentence of three months to someone for beheading a statue of Margaret Thatcher. Yet with the evidence on show, and popular revulsion at the massacre being compounded by Israel’s recent attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which took place just before the trial started, the judge was clearly constrained by the public’s mood.
It is interesting, however, to note just how frank he was in his summation. The following excerpt gives an indication of his approach to the trial.
“Now you have to look at the evidence coldly and dispassionately. It may be as you went through what I can only describe as horrific scenes, scenes of devastation to civilian population, scenes which one would rather have hoped to have disappeared with the Nazi regimes of the last war, you may have felt anger and been absolutely appalled by them, but you must put that emotion aside.
“Equally, you must put aside any feelings of being thoroughly ashamed of our government, of the American government and the United Nations and the EU in doing nothing about what was happening. You just concentrate on the evidence and deal with the case on the evidence as it stands.”
Unsurprisingly, Judge Bathurst-Norman has quickly come under fire from the zionist lobby, which has levelled the usual accusations of anti-semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment.
In response, the Office for Judicial Complaints has confirmed that it will be initiating an inquiry into how the judge handled the trial.
However, these attempts to undermine the ruling and call into question the judge will not take away the effect of the victory for the decommissioners and the anti-war and Palestine solidarity movement they represent.
Gaza protesters still need our support
Meanwhile, as the victory of the decommissioners is celebrated, we must remember the ongoing cases of the Gaza protesters, who by stark comparison have been handed down draconian sentences for non-existent misdemeanours.
Of the thousands of protesters who joined the mass demonstrations outside the Israeli embassy during the Gaza massacre, the overwhelming majority of those arrested during dawn raids days after the event were young and muslim, although this was by no means representative of the make-up of the demonstrations themselves.
While the decommissioners have been successful in their case, the outcome might well have been very different had any of them had dark skin, or a remote connection with Islam. The use of islamophobia by the British state in an attempt to divide the growing anti-imperialist opposition to the occupations of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan must be guarded against.
We must build the support for the Gaza protestors and stand in solidarity with all those standing up to injustice.
No cooperation with war crimes
The decommissioners’ case reinforces the right of all progressive people to take a stand against war crimes. Resisting war crimes is not a crime.
We wholeheatedly agree with Judge Bathurst-Norman when he quoted Edmund Burke’s famous statement: “For injustice to flourish, all that is needed is for good men to do nothing.”
Anti-imperialists and anti-war campaigners must refuse to cooperate in any way with the war effort – must refuse to serve in the forces, make weapons, transport equipment or publish war propaganda.
Interestingly, in complaining against the judge in the EDO case, Jonathan Hoffman, of the Zionist Federation, said that: “This opens the door to any group which thinks the British presence in Afghanistan is wrong to go and smash up plants supplying British forces.” (‘Judge faces anti-Semitism probe after speech attacking Israel helps free arms factory protesters’, Daily Mail, 24 July 2010)
This is a fair point and one which the British state is no doubt well aware of. The case heard at Hove crown court may have focused on the atrocities perpetrated by Israel on the people of Palestine during its latest massacre, but it does not take much to see that similar acts are being perpetrated by British imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan.
British workers have a powerful weapon: the ability to withhold their labour. Individually, we may be powerless against the state, but collectively, the working class has the ultimate veto over the war; they cannot fight it without us!