The Elbit Ferranti factory in Waterhead industrial estate on the edge of Oldham is one of key points of struggle against apartheid Israel and the deadly arms industry that keeps a regime based on daily oppression and bouts of mass murder going.
Elbit is the largest private arms company in Israel, and supplies 85% of the Israeli army’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicles used by the Israeli army. These UAV’s include Elbit’s Skylark, which has been operational since 2008. This is used for intelligence gathering alongside Elbit’s Hermes 900, a lethal drone. Ferranti Technologies is one of Elbit’s subsidiaries in the UK (the others are Instro Precision, Elite KL and and UAV Engines).
Palestine solidarity activists in the North West are keeping up the pressure on the arms company Elbit, in an impressive weekly demonstration that now, at the end of November runs to 28 weeks continual protest. The protests started in May this year; Elbit was one of the key logistical forces in Israel’s attack on Gaza which left at least 248 people dead and 1,900 injured.
The protest saw, at the end of October, rapper Lowkey visiting, and last week there was a message of support from Desmond Tutu, making it clear that South Africa boycotts Israel as a part of BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions now because they know well what apartheid is in practice. The protests at Elbit in Oldham, which have included several dramatic occupations of the factory roof over the past months, are having an impact. HSBC have divested (though it still invests in Caterpillar). The military occupation can be stopped, but that needs the kind of sustained action that these activists have kept up, with support and solidarity needed more than ever.
This is an international and internationalist struggle, to challenge Israeli military operations inside the country, in solidarity with the Palestinians. But also this is to challenge the wider operations of Israel as a military state way beyond the Middle East. The Database of Israeli Military and Security Exports shows the scale of the issue here. Israel is also one of the world’s leading arms exporters, with annual figures for arms export orders are provided by the Ministry of Defence.
As Campaign Against the Arms Trade notes, Israel’s arms export orders were worth 7.2 billion dollars in 2019. According its own Ministry of Defence figures, 41% of Israeli defence exports in 2019 were to Asia and the Pacific, 26% to Europe, 25% to North America, and 4% to Latin America and Africa. Israel is active in surveillance technology, which is one of the Elbit specialities. Arms exports go from Israel to Myanmar, and these include naval patrol boats that are fitted with Elbit remote weapons.
Apartheid South Africa appeared to be isolated, but actually survived through economic relations and military arrangements, including with Israel, making the regime an international question. It was BDS that really enforced isolation, made it real. The same is true of Israel now. Apartheid at home means violence everywhere. The protests against Elbit are making that visible, a crucial part of solidarity with the Palestinians and all of the oppressed.