Being branded as ‘extremist’ won’t deter Palestine Action

Palestinian solidarity remains steadfast despite growing authoritarianism in the United Kingdom.

lisa minerva luxx

Writer and social activist

Published On 28 Mar 202428 Mar 2024Activists from Palestine Action spray paint over the London offices of the Arms Company Leonardo which supplies fighter jets to the Israeli military on November 2, 2023 in London, England [Guy Smallman/Getty Images]

The United Kingdom is plummeting into a paranoid deluge of authoritarianism.

Since October, our government’s steadfast support for Israel has ushered in a new age of state coercion, exposing in its wake the artifice of democracy in Britain.

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In response to weekly pro-Palestine protests calling for an end to Israel’s onslaught on Gaza attended by hundreds of thousands in London and other major British cities, the Conservative Party government expanded police powers and moved to weaponise concerns over so-called “extremism”. Its leading figures referred to peaceful protesters exercising their democratic rights as “mobs” and “hate marchers”, classifying any and all opposition to Israel’s war and occupation as hate and racism.

On March 1, in an impromptu address to the nation responding to the by-election victory of an independent candidate who campaigned on a pro-Palestine platform, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned what he deemed a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality” in the country, and committed to implementing a robust new framework that would allow his government to tackle “extremism” at its roots – a framework many feared would be another attempt by the unelected Sunak government to curtail political freedoms and make a mockery of the UK’s democracy.

Two weeks later, these fears were realised when Communities Secretary Michael Gove unveiled a new “extremism” definition under which certain groups will be blocked from government funding and meeting officials.

According to the new definition: “Extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others” or “undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights”. The definition further includes anything that would “intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve” the above aims.

This is an intentionally vague, purposefully subjective definition that would serve to do nothing but silence, marginalise, and eventually criminalise many Muslim communities, civil liberties organisations, and others campaigning to uphold human rights and international law in Palestine. Essentially, it has the potential to brand as an “extremist” any individual or collective who does not align with the government’s unconditionally pro-Israel stance.

Our group, Palestine Action, is also facing the threat of being labelled as “extremist” due to the principled actions our front-line members have taken to put an end to Britain’s complicity in Israel’s occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian territories.

The main target of Palestine Action’s campaign has been the UK subsidiary factories and offices of Elbit Systems – Israel’s largest arms manufacturer that supply some 85 percent of the land and air munitions used by its military.

Since its formation in 2020, Palestine Action has forced the permanent closure of Elbit’s Oldham factory and pushed the company to abandon its London headquarters. In 2022, the group’s protest action led to the dissolution of contracts worth 280 million pounds ($353.6m) between the UK Ministry of Defence and Elbit Systems. Our campaign has also successfully impelled several leading British and European companies to cut ties with Elbit permanently.

We have long known that the success of our campaign against Elbit Systems, and Israeli interests in general, has upset the government. This is why it came as no surprise that in the draft plan of Gove’s new definition, Palestine Action was named as a group that could be captured in the new, extended “extremism” bracket.

However, we will never be deterred by such intimidation attempts.

As a network, we have already faced arrests, house raids, police brutality and imprisonment. In 2023, it was exposed in the British press how Israeli embassy officials have been pressing the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to intervene in the prosecution of Palestine Action protesters on their behalf.

We have not given into such undemocratic efforts to silence us in the past, and we will not do so in the future, whether our group ends up being classified as an “extremist” entity under Gove’s new definition or not.

The persecution we face in the UK is nothing compared with the horrors communities in occupied Palestine are being subjected to by Israel, with the backing of our government. With that in mind, we see no way forward other than continuing with our campaign, with integrity and determination.

The state’s renewed attempts to monitor and bully our movement into silence since the beginning of this latest war on Gaza did not break our resolve or weaken the growing public support for our cause.

In fact, Palestine Action has received thousands of fresh sign-ups since October. We have new recruits from across the social spectrum: A young mother of toddlers, a TV producer, many doctors, delivery drivers, primary school teachers, and disability support workers … People of all ages, classes, religions and experience approached us and said they want to do their part. These new members took on many different roles, including arrestee and justice-system support.

The overwhelming majority – if not all – of these new recruits said that since the beginning of this latest onslaught on Gaza, they have become disillusioned with the façade of democracy in the UK. They told us they have lost faith in marching, signing petitions and writing to their legislators as they helplessly watched on their screens weapon technologies, that continue to be supplied by Britain, shred Palestinian bodies into pieces.

They explained that they chose to join Palestine Action because they measured their Western comfort against their conscience, and felt obligated to do more. That they are ready to dedicate themselves to a practice of justice which leads to material change.

Most of all, they said they now refuse to feel powerless – no more feeling useless at the sight of a mass grave, babies shivering in terror, young boys turned skeletal by famine, body parts hanging from walls, or a father listening for the screams of his daughter under the rubble.

Each allegation against Palestine Action unwittingly sheds light on the crimes our campaigners are using their bodies to stop – the most barbaric crimes against humanity.

If a house is on fire with a child inside and a passer-by must kick down the door to stop the child from being burned alive, then the door becomes immaterial. British government’s new definition of “extremism”, however, appear more concerned with the fate of the door than that of the child – and even less concerned with asking who started the fire, and who supplied the matches. But one cannot speak of the passer-by and the door without speaking of the child and the fire.

As tensions continue to rise in the UK, supporters of Palestine must not lose sight of their uprightness. Alongside other principled groups, including CAGE, Black Lives Matter and Sisters Uncut, Palestine Action will continue to model steadfastness and focus. It is not a time to be subsumed by rhetoric when actions are urgently needed.

We are being asked by numerous media outlets how – if brandished – this new “extremist” label would affect our movement. Our response is clear: it won’t. If a just democracy was functioning healthily, Palestine Action would not need to exist. Palestine Action’s commitment is to Palestinians and the struggle against a genocidal occupation; we will not stop until British complicity stops and Israel’s largest arms manufacturer no longer operates out of the UK.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.