The gentle sound of birdsong on Brandon Hill was interrupted by a chant: “War criminals! Out of Bristol!”
The words came from a small group of 13 protesters, gathered outside an inconspicuous office block at 31 Great George Street yesterday, June 14.
Not an area of Bristol known for protest activity, this quiet dead-end road off Park Street yesterday became the site of the latest in a string of actions protesting property management firm JLL that has seen the Bristol office as well as London offices targeted.
These actions, and yesterday’s demo on Great George Street, are the work of Palestine Action, a small but rapidly-growing direct action group determined to end UK complicity in Israeli apartheid.
Approaching the protest, the reason for targeting JLL becomes clearer. Protesters hold a banner carrying the Palestine Action slogan “Evict Elbit”.
The Elbit in question is Elbit UK, the UK branch of Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest privately-owned arms manufacturer. The UK is home to ten Elbit sites, several managed by JLL, including both office buildings, such as at Aztec West in Bristol, and factories.
According to Palestine Action, Elbit Systems provides 85% of the Israeli Defence Force’s military drones, as well as bullets for sniper rifles which are used against Palestinians.
Speaking to TBA, Birch, one of the protesters, explained how Palestine Action ‘have been targeting Elbit facilities and shutting them down and doing a lot of direct action, and today this is just a small piece of a campaign to keep JLL visible and remind them that facilitators of war criminals are not welcome in Bristol.’
The presence of arms manufacturers in Bristol may come as a shock to many Bristolians, who are used to skies filled with hot air balloons rather than Hermes drones.
Birch wants Bristolians to ask themselves ‘if that’s something that they want to have in their town, and if it’s not then I would encourage them to stand up and say something about it.’
Regardless of their views on Elbit’s presence in Bristol, for many of those looking on from Brandon Hill, the desire to bask in the warm sun proved stronger than their desire to engage with the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the international arms trade
However, Birch brought the situation down to earth in simple moral terms.
‘I don’t feel qualified to speak in any detail on the Israel Palestine situation….it’s very complicated but I know right from wrong and I know that what’s happening is wrong. So this is the best I can do right now.’
With the presence of the arms trade increasingly felt in Bristol, it can only be a matter of time before more Bristolians find themselves asking similar questions of themselves: what is right, what is wrong, and what can I do about it?