Four activists, known as the ‘Elbit 5’, are on the verge of facing jail sentences after being found guilty of planning to commit criminal damage to an Israeli weapons factory located in the West Midlands. Their arrest by law enforcement authorities thwarted their attempt to disrupt the operations of Elbit’s Shenstone factory, which is responsible for manufacturing engines used in drones deployed by the Israeli occupation, notably against Palestinians.
Following a grueling seven-week trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court, the activists were convicted of their charges. However, during the proceedings, they were denied the opportunity to present the political aspects of their actions or the legal basis for their defense. Judge Michael Chambers refused to entertain any lawful excuse defenses under the Criminal Damage Act 1971 and prohibited the activists from explaining their motivations, including their focus on Elbit and the broader context of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Additionally, the judge did not inform the jury of their right to consider a verdict based on their conscience and the potential injustice of the charges, independently of the established law.
In response to their impending sentencing hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning, the activists issued a statement defending their actions. They said that their intention was to prevent Elbit from contributing to war crimes and contend that their actions align with international law. They cite the International Criminal Court Act 2001, which designates the commission of war crimes by British nationals or residents, or support for war crimes, as criminal offenses in the UK. Furthermore, they assert that their right to protest was infringed upon by the judge’s exclusion of defenses under Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
The statement asserts, “On Wednesday, September 6, We Will Be Sentenced for the ‘crime’ of trying to prevent Elbit committing war crimes […] In taking action against Elbit’s factories, we have been guilty of nothing more than trying to prevent Israeli war crimes.”
The activists also underscored the recent use of Elbit’s drones by the Israeli occupation in Jenin, where 12 Palestinians, including five children, lost their lives. They said that these tragic incidents in occupied Palestine motivated their actions, and they maintain that they should not be penalized for attempting to save lives.
Defense of Necessity Dismissed
The statement concludes by lamenting the dismissal of the defense of necessity, which posits that it is permissible to commit a lesser offense to prevent a greater crime. The courts, they say, have concluded that the victims of Elbit’s drones are too “remote” from the company’s UK factories, implying that, in the eyes of the law, causing criminal damage to Elbit’s facilities is deemed more serious than potentially enabling war crimes.
The activists face a potential prison sentence of up to 10 years for their actions, a sentence which Judge Chambers has indicated “crosses the custody threshold.” The repeated postponements of their sentencing since their May conviction have inflicted further stress and hardship upon them, with one activist losing their job as a result of the conviction.
The case has garnered substantial support from human rights organizations and campaigners who have decried the trial as a miscarriage of justice. They passionately call for the activists’ acquittal, highlighting the broader issues of international law and human rights at stake.