Dear Mr. Blomfield,
We have just been listening to the BBC news on the radio and heard many speakers voice a welcome for the agreement with Iran with regard to the development of nuclear weapons. The one dissenting voice belonged to Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister; the BBC somehow omitted to mention that Israel already has a nuclear arsenal and that it has waged war on Gaza on three occasions in six years, killing approximately 3,500 Palestinians, at least a quarter of whom were children. These casualties were caused by the use of what are called “conventional” weapons and this brings me to the main reason why we are writing to you at this time.
The independent Israeli arms company Elbit Systems has several factories in the UK mostly concerned with producing components of “drones” for use by the Israeli Armed Forces. These drones carried out more than half the sorties on Gaza in the 2014 attack, directly involving parts of the British workforce in the deaths inflicted there.
As you may be aware, on 6th July 2015, people concerned about the role of this company attempted to demonstrate outside several Elbit installations. The ones from Sheffield generally went to the Shenstone factory in Staffordshire. As advance leaflets pointed out, trying to encourage support for the demonstration, the plan was “to convert a site of destruction into a fun, creative and child-friendly environment.” The police assembled there had other ideas. Firstly, they employed an eleventh hour injunction to try to prevent any assembly of protesters at all. Then, using aggressive tactics not seen at earlier demonstrations at this factory, they proceeded to manhandle and bundle people out of the way with precious little concern for their safety, arresting 19 people in the process. On an international scale – especially with regard to how matters are handled in Israel – these police tactics were mild: no one shot dead, no use of water-canon etc. But in the context of the traditions
in this country, the police tactics had more in common with Orgreave than with a recognition that legal, peaceful protest is long practised here and held to be an important right.
So, in the light of these matters, we would ask you to give your opinion on the following:
- Is it acceptable for the police to employ court injunctions to prevent a peaceful
demonstration outside an arms factory, thereby preventing legitimate protest on an important issue?
- Widening the issue, will you press for an arms embargo with regard to Israel, considering that the UK licensed £11.6 million worth of components to that country in 2014, many of which would have been employed in the carnage in Gaza? (Even Nick Clegg called for an embargo during the attack.)
- One Sheffield resident has been arrested and awaits notification regarding charges. What support are you able to offer to this person? (She is in the Heeley constituency).
In conclusion, we note that there is to be an attempt to revivify a “Labour Friends of Palestine” in Sheffield. Is the arms embargo against Israel an issue this group will support?