Two Palestine Action activists, Gamze Sanli and Sally Woodward, were acquitted unanimously by a jury in Southwark crown court in December 2023, having been charged with criminal damage against a memorial after they doused the House of Commons’ Arthur Balfour statue in red last year.
To mark the 105th anniversary of Balfour’s signing of his imperialist declaration, which handed over the land of Palestine to zionists, the pair snuck into Parliament to challenge his glorification. Swapping out Palestine Action’s usual red paint for ketchup, so that it evaded Commons security, the pair defaced the statue in the private members’ lobby with a blood red mark before unveiling the Palestinian flag and gluing themselves to the plinth.
Issued in 1917, the Balfour declaration promised “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the jewish people”. This paved the way for the violent colonisation of Palestine by zionist settlers – and their violence intensified following the signing of the declaration.
Balfour promised British imperialism’s “best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object”. Up until 1948, Britain did indeed provided that support, facilitating the zionists’ violence through the British army’s mass arrests and violence, including sexual violence, against male and female Palestinian detainees, its training of zionist militias, and its numerous atrocities against Palestinians, including massacres and burning of entire villages.
Balfour’s zionism was also tied up with his deep-rooted antisemitism, having passed as prime minister in 1905 the Aliens Act, which expressly sought to restrict jewish migration to Britain.
The Balfour Two were the first to be charged under new provisions relating to accused “damage to memorials”, brought in under the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, for which charges now carry a maximum ten years imprisonment – up from the previous maximum of three months. The act received Royal Assent at the end of April 2022, following the acquittal by jury of the Colston Four at the start of that year.
The Two were deprived by the judge of other defences, including their rights to assembly and expression under the European Convention, so they argued instead on the basis of consent: that the British public would agree with the action if they understood who Balfour was and what was the British role in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Following the verdict, Ms Sanli stated: “We wanted to show that this is not a faraway geopolitical conflict. We’re talking about apartheid and settler colonialism, violations of the human rights of a whole people, and we need to see that through the lens of British complicity.” Ms Woodward added that it was about the “colonial legacy of what Balfour did and the fact that our government is still complicit in that violence, continuing to arm Israel through companies like Elbit Systems”.
Another case against seven Palestine Action activists who broke into and sabotaged equipment at an Elbit Systems factory two years ago is ongoing in the Bristol crown court at this present moment.
Palestine Action is a network of groups and individuals formed with the mandate of taking direct action against the sites of Elbit Systems and other companies complicit in Israeli war crimes and apartheid, calling for all such sites to be shut down.