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Why the liberation of Palestine won’t come from our governments

by Ludovico Caminati Engstrom

IN JANUARY this year, two comrades and I occupied the Leonardo arms factory in Edinburgh, allegedly costing the company more than £1 million in damages.

At the beginning of last week, three other Palestine Action activists managed to scale the rooftop of Leonardo and shut it down for the second time in a year. The message is clear: Scotland will not be complicit in the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.

The Leonardo HQ in London was also targeted at the start of the month, covered in red paint symbolising the blood on the firm’s hands. Such direct actions are carried out by Palestine Action, a network committed to dismantling British complicity in Israeli apartheid. We do sustained actions to make Britain a hostile environment for any arms companies profiting out of Israel’s occupation.

Leonardo is an Italian arms company that has recently increased its business with Israel. It has merged its US subsidy Leonardo DRS with Rada, an Israel global defence company. The merger gives “Leonardo a stable domestic presence in the Israeli industrial context” as the company puts it on its website.

The Edinburgh site is renowned for its laser manufacturing, meeting 80 per cent of global demand for high-energy military lasers. These laser technologies are advertised as “battle-tested in the Middle East” and they are likely to be used on F-35 Israeli jets.

As part of the action against it, the protesters displayed a red banner reading: “L’Italia ripudia la guerra,” which means: “Italy rejects war.” This is taken from the 11th article of the Italian constitution, which continues: “Italy rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes.” The aim was to point out to Leonardo and the Italian government that what they are doing is not only immoral and wrong but also unconstitutional.

Not that I would expect Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni — who, according to the La Stampa newspaper, said: “Mussolini was a good politician” — to understand why this is problematic. The Italian constitution was written by members of the anti-fascist parties after the second world war, when Italy had liberated itself from Nazi fascism. I don’t expect someone nostalgic for Mussolini’s fascism to understand the unconstitutionality of providing arms to an apartheid state such as Israel.

Indeed, the new far-right government in Italy has ties with some of the country’s biggest defence contractors. Defence Minister Guido Crosetto, who is also the co-founder of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, has had a long career in the military and defence sector. Crosetto was president of the Italian Industries Federation of Aerospace, Defence and Security (AIAD) and senior adviser to Leonardo from 2014 to 2022. He held both positions until he was offered the ministerial position in Meloni’s government, as he outlines in his LinkedIn profile.

Various Italian newspapers have pointed out the new defence minister’s conflict of interest. The Domani newspaper revealed that he received €1.8 million (about £1.5m) from Leonardo between 2018 and 2022. Furthermore, the arms company is one of the main suppliers of the Italian Defence Ministry now headed by Crosetto himself.

The example of Italy is not isolated. It is symptomatic of the deeper and now entrenched issue of far-reaching lobbying. Despite 76 per cent of Britain public supporting a ceasefire in Gaza, Britain’s two main parties are both opposed.

Interestingly, two-fifths of Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet have been funded by pro-Israel lobbies. No wonder he does not support a ceasefire. Indeed, his stance has caused a crisis within the Labour Party and triggered many resignations. The discrepancy between the will of the people and their elected officials’ actions is what leads people to lose faith in democracy.

Disillusioned with politicians, people around the world are increasingly breaking the dreadful silence of their governments by taking matters into their own hands and attempting to end their country’s complicity in Israeli apartheid.

We have seen hundreds of workers in England occupying multiple arms factories. Dock workers in Belgium, Spain and in my home town of Genoa have refused to ship arms to Israel. We have seen Jewish peoples in New York City staging sit-ins and getting arrested to press President Joe Biden to call for a ceasefire. Palestine Action in the United States has been shutting down arms factories and headquarters of complicit companies. Last week, activists scaled the roof of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in solidarity with Palestine. There have been mass protests around the world and the biggest Palestine march ever seen in London.

This is what solidarity looks like.

We are in a country that bears huge responsibility for this genocide, both because of the unwavering support given by Rishi Sunak’s government to the Israeli administration of Benjamin Netanyahu and because, historically, Britain gave away land that it had no right to.

That is why it is the moment and the right place to act in solidarity and help our brothers and sisters in Palestine. We need to stop the ongoing slaughter.

Join the network shutting down Israel’s military supply in Britain and British complicity in Israeli apartheid. Join Palestine Action.

Ludovico is an Italian masters student in political communication at the University of Glasgow. He previously graduated in international politics at Stirling University. He is an activist with Palestine Action and has worked as Scotland Youth Network organiser for Global Justice Now.

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