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ANTI-ARMS campaigners marked 10 years this week since locals in Derry booted out a multibillion-pound weapons firm from their city in a historic victory for the anti-war movement.
In 2010, the Raytheon factory in Northern Ireland eventually shut its doors following years of campaigning by locals and nine activists’ high-profile occupation in 2006.
The occupation made headlines across Britain as the activists — known as the Raytheon 9 — broke into the factory and hurled computers out the window, causing an estimated £350,000 worth of damage.
The action was a direct response to Raytheon’s involvement in Israel’s war on Lebanon when bunker bombs made by the US arms firm were being used to massacre civilians.
On Thursday evening, anti-arms groups marked the anniversary of the factory’s closure by bringing together two of the Raytheon 9 with those fighting ongoing campaigns to shut down weapons factories in England.
The online event, co-hosted by Oldham Peace and Justice, started with a screening of Not in Our Name — showing the remarkable story of how the small group brought down the Raytheon plant.
With Derry’s violent recent past still vivid in their minds, the activists explain in the short film how they “could not stand for” an arms factory on their doorstep aiding massacres in another part of the world.
Explaining why they decided to break into the factory, Raytheon 9 member Colm Bryce told fellow campaigners: “For us in Derry in 2006 it really became intolerable to go back to normal. Sometimes it feels like you have to take matters into your own hands.”
Eamon McCann, another member of the Raytheon 9, said that he was still “immensely proud” of being part of the movement but added that he is still blamed in Derry for supposedly “running jobs out of town.”
Following the action, the nine were arrested for criminal damage but were let off two years later, with the jury deciding that they had occupied the factory to prevent a greater crime — the murder of Lebanese civilians.
In one particularly memorable message from the film Mr McCann declares that “there will be a time, when we look back on the arms trade the same way we look back at the slave trade.”
These words continue to resonate with campaigners fighting to close arms factories today.
In recent years, groups of activists have occupied factories owned by Israel’s largest private arms company, Elbit Systems, in Oldham, Kent and Shenstone. Elbit produces 85 per cent of the Israeli army’s drones, which are used to drop bombs on Gaza.
One of the activists involved in the recent occupations of Israeli arms factories, Adie Mormech, told the Morning Star he hoped these actions, like the Raytheon 9, will “galvanise everyone and make this campaign win.”
Mr Mormech, who is from Manchester, lived in Gaza for two years as a teacher. He was one of nine activists in 2014 to occupy the Shenstone factory - which makes engines for Israeli drones.
While on the roof of the factory he found out that one of his students had been murdered in a drone strike during Israel’s 50-day bombardment of Gaza, along with her two babies, husband and mother-in-law.
Speaking before the webinar, Mr Mormech said: “Ninety entire families were wiped off the register by that bombing, and one of them was my student’s. You see what these weapons are doing and so when you bring that urgency to it, I think everyone would be on the roof of those factories.”
He warned that Elbit continues to grow in Britain, having recently been awarded more contracts by the government, and opening a small site in Bristol last year.
Asked whether the world is any closer to shutting down the arms trade 10 years after the Raytheon factory closure, Mr Bryce said: “The way the history of racism, slavery and empire is being challenged just now, shows how change can happen very dramatically.
“There is a world to win, and some days it feels closer.”
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