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Police arrested non-violent Palestine activists under terror legislation

Members of Palestine Action were questioned under counter-terror legislation for deploying non-violent tactics used by peace movements

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
20 April 2021, 4.33pm
Palestine Action activists occupy the roof of Elbit’s Bristol headquarters, April 2021
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Vladimir Morozov/Alamy Live News

A non-violent, direct-action group campaigning for solidarity with Palestinians has been threatened by Metropolitan police officers with prosecution under terrorism laws, openDemocracy can reveal.

Members of Palestine Action have also been arrested under counter-terror legislation, and charged with blackmail for threatening to protest against a company.

The group, which was established last July, has been inspired by the environmental group Extinction Rebellion’s use of civil disobedience to campaign for justice for Palestinians.

Over the past year, Palestine Action has used non-violent tactics common within peace movements to temporarily shut down factories in the UK that produce weapons for Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. Elbit makes drones, including those used to surveil the Gaza strip.

In 2014, a drone manufactured by the Elbit Systems, which activists say was at least partly produced in the UK, shot and killed four boys playing on Gaza beach, leading to worldwide condemnation of the Israeli military.

Last year, when returning from a trip to Ireland, co-founders of the group Huda Ammori and Richard Barnard were arrested at the Holyhead ferry port in Wales. openDemocracy has seen documents confirming that Ammori was arrested under the Terrorism Act by the Wales Extremism and Counter-Terrorism unit because she refused to provide the password for her laptop, which she says officers then confiscated.

“The second we showed our passports they showed us into different rooms – it was like they were expecting us,” Ammori told openDemocracy.

“They didn’t ask any questions, they just asked ‘what’s your password for your phone and laptop?’ I gave them my password to my phone. I didn’t give them the password to my laptop – I told them it had data from my work.

“They said from the get-go that we were being questioned under terrorism legislation. They said it was a minimum of three months in prison.”

Both of the activists had their laptops confiscated and Ammori says that, although the terror charges against her have been dropped, her computer has not been returned. Barnard was today charged with conspiracy to blackmail after threatening to go on a hunger strike against LaSalle Investment Management, the company from which Elbit Systems rents its London office building, unless it evicted the arms manufacturer.

They asked if I was Jihadi. It’s very frustrating, being asked if I’m a terrorist

Speaking to openDemocracy, Barnard said that it was “frustrating” to be accused of blackmail for the common campaign tactic of threatening to protest if a demand is not met.

He added that, while being questioned in relation to this allegation, a senior officer said “you’re not a proscribed organisation yet – don’t you think your actions are akin to terrorism?”.

A spokesperson for LaSalle said the company is “aware of a number of incidents” that have occurred at various of its offices and online, adding: “The incidents have been referred to the police for further action.”

Speaking about her arrest in Holyhead, Ammori accused officers of making assumptions about her based on her race.

“They said if I didn’t answer their questions I’d be charged under the terror act,” she said.

“They asked me a load of racist crap. They asked about my family in Iraq, they wanted to know about all my family in Iraq, all my aunties and uncles.

“They asked if I was Sunni/Shia, I said I’m not religious. They asked if I was Jihadi. It’s very frustrating, being asked if I’m a terrorist.”

Ammori faces trial in Stafford Crown Court on 17 May, charged with criminal damage at a different protest in Shenstone, Staffordshire.

Threatened with terror legislation

Milly Arnott, a member of the group who was arrested last week in relation to charges for an action last year says she was told by officers from the Metropolitan Police that the group could face charges under terrorist legislation, despite its actions being non-violent, on the grounds that their protests had done ‘more than £2m of damage’ to the arms company.

Arnott, a full-time charity worker, was inspired to take action after studying Arabic for a year at An-Najah university in Nablus, in the West Bank.

“I had my British passport, I was white, I could pass through checkpoints without being worried about being shot,” Arnott, who lived with a Palestinian woman in Jenin during her time in the West Bank, said.

“My Palestinian friends couldn’t leave the city without fearing they would be shot,” she said. “When I thought of my childhood, it was a childhood. They were deprived of that.”

My Palestinian friends couldn’t leave the city without fearing they would be shot

Speaking about police threat to charge her with terrorism offenses for taking action, Arnott said it should be seen alongside the government’s police and crime bill as part of a “terrifying slide into authoritarianism”.

Responding to the news that police had threatened the group with terror legislation, Badee Dwaik, president of Palestine’s National Association of Human Rights Defenders, said:

“Palestine Action is an heroic act for the sake of justice and freedom, appreciated by the Palestinian people and all the free people of the world. It is deserving of honor, not punishment and criminalisation.”

Dwaik, who’s based in Hebron in the West Bank, added that Palestine Action is an attempt by some people in Britain to “wash away the shame” from crimes “which their governments have, over many years, committed against the rights of the Palestinian people”.

Elbit Systems, the Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit and the Metropolitan Police were offered the chance to comment on this story.

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