War on Gaza: Activists shut down UK arms factories ahead of a month of protests

Hundreds of workers and activists targeted two factories that manufacture components for Israeli F-35 fighter jets

Katherine Hearst

Protesters bar the entrance to GE Aviation Systems in Cheltenham (Workers for a Free Palestine)

Hundreds of workers and protesters blockaded arms factories in England and Scotland on Wednesday that produce components for F-35 fighter jets, currently being used by Israel to bomb Gaza.

The protesters – including health workers, teachers, hospitality workers, academics and artists, who are members of a wide range of trade unions – are taking the action under the banner Workers for a Free Palestine, in order to disrupt the flow of arms to Israel.

Around 15 percent of the components of all F-35s is produced in Britain. According to the US producer Lockheed Martin, “the fingerprints of British ingenuity can be found on dozens of the aircraft’s key components”.

Both of the sites targeted in Wednesday’s action, GE Aviation Systems in Cheltenham and Leonardo UK in Edinburgh, manufacture components for the jets.

The blockade marks the beginning of a month of disruptive action to demand the UK end all its arms sales to Israel and support an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

In a statement, the group said the action was in response to Israel’s impending invasion of Rafah, the city where the majority of Gaza’s population have been forced to take refuge, and calls by Palestinian unionists to workers around the world to help stop their governments’ complicity in war crimes being committed by Israel. 

The group added that the action was also “a defiant response to the criminalisation of protest in the UK and the misrepresentation of the campaign for a free Palestine as extremist.

“We’re demanding our government immediately halt arms supplies to Israel before it launches this offensive in Rafah using British-made bombs. But we are not waiting for this genocide-appeasing prime minister to act,” Zad, a housing support worker and union member taking part in the blockade, was quoted as saying in the press release.

“We’re taking action ourselves to stop the flow of arms from Britain to Israel before it launches an illegal assault on Rafah, which the United Nations has made clear will cause catastrophic levels of death and destruction, and plunge Gaza into famine.”

workers block factory entrance
Protesters at the Cheltenham factory blockade (Workers for a Free Palestine)

“We’ve organised these arms factory blockades in response to that call to disrupt the Israeli war machine and try to end Britain’s complicity in the genocide being perpetrated by Israel,” Salma, a trade union member of the group, told Middle East Eye.

The network previously blockaded four arms factories in December, including Eaton Mission Systems in Bournemouth, BAE Systems at Samlesbury Aerodrome in Lancashire, L3Harris Release & Integrated Solutions Ltd factory in Brighton, and BAE Systems at Govan in Glasgow.

‘We don’t blame the workers at these sites. We blame the bosses who decide to sell these components to Israel so they can be used in an ongoing genocide’

-Cam, protester in Edinburgh

All of the companies help to produce components for F-35 jets.

“We don’t blame the workers at these sites. We blame the bosses who decide to sell these components to Israel so they can be used in an ongoing genocide,” said Cam, a local resident taking part in the Edinburgh blockade.

“As Israel threatens to invade Rafah, predicted to cause an unthinkably brutal bloodbath, we couldn’t stand by silently while a factory down the road resources that massacre. We had to act.” 

In 2023, Israel placed an additional order for 25 F-35 stealth fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, in a deal worth $3bn.

That would bring the number of F-35s in Israel’s air force to 75, the Israeli defence ministry said. The purchase will be financed by aid money Israel receives from the US.

Risk of human rights violations

UN experts have warned that the transfer of weapons to Israel for use in Gaza is “likely to violate international humanitarian law” and must stop immediately.

The UK government has said that it has not provided lethal or military equipment to Israel since 7 October.

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But in an affidavit filed at the High Court by the Department for Business and Trade in January, the government identified 28 current licences and 28 pending applications for the export of equipment “most likely to be used by the [Israeli army] in offensive operations in Gaza”.

In February, the British Ministry of Defence admitted that nine Israeli Air Force planes have taken off and landed in the UK since the Israeli onslaught on Gaza began on 7 October.

Items approved for export under the current licences included components for combat aircraft, armoured personnel carriers and targeting equipment, according to the government’s assessment.

In February, the Court of Appeal in the Hague ordered the Netherlands to stop delivering parts for the fighter jets, as the court found “a clear risk that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law” in Gaza.

The UK government’s arms export criteria include the same obligation as the Netherlands’ criteria relied upon by the Hague’s Court of Appeal.

Activists shut down UK arms factories ahead of a month of protests

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