From Brighton to Beirut - taking action against war

IssueSeptember 2006
Feature by Kat Barton

The events in the Middle East during July and August resulted in a flurry of activity back here in Britain, with people from Brighton to Glasgow taking action to “bring the war home”. The heavy-handed tactics of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) were widely derided as “disproportionate”, and many people were compelled to do more than just march. Some of these actions even got covered in the mainstream press, most notably the Trident Ploughshares “citizens' inspections” at Prestwick Airport near Glasgow.

Refuelling aggression

On three consecutive nights, activists organised citizens' inspections at Prestwick after being alerted to the possibility that the civilian airport was being used by the US military to supply Israel with munitions for use in their bombardment of civilian areas of Lebanon. On each of the three nights, the inspectors were able to collect evidence for between 40 minutes and two hours before being arrested. The actions succeeded in highlighting poor security procedures at the airport and the role of British civilian airports in foreign wars.

Following media coverage of events at Prestwick and reports of a plane destined for Israel being diverted from Prestwick to RAF Brize Norton, a peace camp was set up and an emergency demonstration called for Saturday 12 August at Brize. Around 50 people turned up, and the base was effectively closed when a spontaneous blockade of the front gate took place. Under the banner “Israel out of Lebanon, UK out of the Middle East, US off the planet”, South Wales anarchists blocked the front gate for nearly two hours, before moving off into the road where they were apprehended by over-zealous police officers eager to keep the road clear for passing cars. The peace camp was dissolved a few days later when no more suspicious planes had been spotted.

At the same time, another camp was established at USAF Mildenhall - frequently used to refuel US planes travelling further afield - following the identification of an aircraft carrying arms to Israel. As Peace News went to press the camp had just closed (photo, right). Organiser - and co-ordinator of CND Eastern Region - Mell Harrison said: “We have decided to leave now, while the camp is strong and successful. We have got to return to our jobs. We have achieved what we set out to do. Two new peace groups in Suffolk have been set up as a direct result of the camp and both have undertaken to continue monitoring flights in and out of the base”.

Arming the aggressors

Other activists chose to target the arms companies who profit from the sale of weapons to Israel. In Derry, nine people stormed into the local plant of US missile manufacturer Rayetheon to protest against the use of its products by the IDF in attacks on Lebanon. After eight hours, the protesters were arrested and later charged with “unlawful assembly” and “aggravated rurglary”.

In Brighton, continuing their long-running campaign against weapons manufacturers EDO MBM, Smash EDO activists have been busy highlighting the role the company plays in arming the Israel. EDO MBM manufacture components for the Israeli Hellfire missile which was used, for example, to destroy an ambulance leaving Qana, Lebanon, on 23 July. Just a month ago, at the Farnborough “Air Show”, the company was boasting of its new contracts with the Israeli military. Shortly after the war started, Smash EDO activists blockaded the EDO MBM factory by chaining themselves to barrels of cement, and on 9 August the group called a “Palestinian Day of Action” with local artists bringing impressions of the horrors of war to the factory gates to remind the company of their complicity in war crimes. The group also co-ordinated “phone blockades” in which concerned citizens were encouraged to call EDO MBM's switchboard to tell the company what ordinary citizens think of the way it makes its money. Finally on 23 August, in the fourth Smash EDO action since the start of the war, two activists staged a rooftop occupation of EDO MBM premises, where they remained for several hours before being arrested.

Action against inaction

Having witnessed our government's blatant foot-dragging, many felt that action should be directed at those whose inaction resulted in the loss of so many lives. On 21 August, a week after the UN-brokered ceasefire had given the impression that it's business as usual again, up to 100 activists met outside the Foreign Office and, despite the heavy police presence that greeted them, succeeded in blockading the building for two hours. Members of the clown army, also present, staged a dramatic die-in before being arrested for “`suspected criminal damage” - caused by the washable fake blood they spilt on the pavement.

Earlier in August, celebrity protester Helen Griffin, the actress from Doctor Who and a recent BAFTA winner (pictured), was one of six people who covered the outside of Cardiff Museum in fake blood handprints. The blood soaked prints were spread across the steps of the museum to highlight the number of lives being lost during Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. Also caught “red-handed” were a Palestinian doctor and a grandmother who had left her 24- hour peace vigil at Swansea castle to join the protest. All six were arrested for criminal damage during the action, which also included a street theatre performance in which a case containing $3Billion was handed over to the Israeli Prime minister Ehud Omert reflecting the United States's subsidising of the Israeli war machine each year.

Sit-in or stand-up

Of course, not everyone wants to risk arrest by engaging in acts of civil disobedience - a fact that was highlighted during at least two of the numerous demonstrations and vigils that have taken place over the past weeks. At an 18 July candlelit vigil, which drew almost 1000 people and was held in London's Parliament Square, a large proportion of those present - on realising the potential of power in numbers - sat down in the road and calmly began staging what could have been a highly successful sit-in. However, several others - driven by a concern for safety and a desire not to aggravate the police - urged those seated to stand up immediately. These incidents of spontaneous civil disobedience have sparked the usual debates and discussions.

National and international

Over the past two months, demonstrations took place in locations all over Britain and around the world and people living in the countries involved were no exception. Demonstrations took place in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine (as the IDF continued their offensive in the Occupied Territories while all eyes were on Lebanon).

Actions and events included anarchists protesting at the Ramat David Israeli air force base in northern Israel on 8 August (pictured). At the end of July an estimated 5,000 marched through the streets of Tel Aviv, led by a coalition of 17 women's groups and calling for an end to occupation and war.

Demonstrations also continued across the Occupied Territories, with thousands taking to the streets on 25 July to protest against US policy during Condoleeza Rice's visit. There was heavy repression in August in Bil'in where regular nonviolent demonstrations against the separation wall continued, amidst rubber bullets and tear gas. A tenday nonviolence solidarity camp took place in the village later in the month.

In Lebanon, public peace vigils took place and, following the Qana massacre, a massive anti-war demonstration was held in Beirut.

In the US there were tens of demonstrations and protests all over the country during July and August, most focused on the administration's overt political, financial and military support for Israel, but also reflecting growing anger at US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the largest protests were witnessed on 22 July when towns and cities across the US participated in the international day of action.