© John Watson

The founders of Palestine Action on how to shut down a weapons factory

Huda Ammori and Richard Barnard spent three nights on a drone factory rooftop before police hauled them down
June 5, 2024

“This is the most ironic place to have this interview,” quips activist Richard Barnard. We’re a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, and still in the shadow of parliament—both symbols of the establishment he and Huda Ammori have spent their lives resisting. 

Members of their organisation, Palestine Action, have been branded “pernicious militants” by former Labour MP and life peer John Woodcock, whose new report argues that the government should keep under review “whether Palestine Action meets the criteria for proscription as a terrorist entity”. The pair founded Palestine Action in 2020 to take direct action against Israeli weapons factories operating in Britain. Later that year, along with other activists, they climbed onto the roof of an Elbit factory in Staffordshire, where they spent three nights causing carnage with hammers and tools, before police hauled them down in stretchers. Ammori recalls looking up at a wrecked building, glass windows smashed, red paint streaked across all sides: “I just remember saying how beautiful it all looked.” 

Elbit Systems manufactures 85 per cent of Israel’s drone fleet. Some are equipped with missiles that are marketed as “field-tested” once deployed in Gaza. Ammori argues the group has to resort to direct action as politicians won’t listen to “facts and reason”. “They already understand the situation. They’re choosing to be complicit.”

Ammori, 30, is the daughter of a Palestinian father and an Iraqi mother. Her great grandfather was involved in the 1936 uprising against the British. With a bounty on his head, he was killed by British soldiers, and the family’s ancestral home was destroyed. It was rebuilt by the Palestinian community, but in 1967—with the Israeli military shooting at it—her family was forced to leave. Her father and his young siblings hid under the table in their front room and crawled out the back door. “That was the last time he saw his home.”

Barnard, 51, is trickier to place. Below the sleeves of his “FC Palestina” shirt, he has almost 30 tattoos: Benedictine mottos, Buddhist chants, an Irish Republican slogan, “freedom” in Arabic. In Roman numerals, 77, “the number of times Jesus says you should forgive your enemies”. (“Contradicts this one, doesn’t it?” Ammori laughs, looking at another tattoo of the code for “all cops are bastards”). 

Barnard, who tells me he raised himself Catholic, says his first tattoo was Aramaic for “peace”. But his prayer is matched by radical action. He recalls “a massive cross” in his old church depicting the crucifixion. “That idea of sacrifice” resonated. Another formative Biblical moment was, “You know, Jesus going into the temple and destroying it in effect and kicking people out.” 

Barnard has broken into American Airforce bases in Germany nine times, alongside some local monks. He used to be part of a Christian anarchist group called the Catholic Worker, which aims to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. 

“Ultimately, for me, it’s the belief in God. When I’m stood before the Almighty with everyone else, that’s the legacy I want,” he says. I ask whether he’s still a Christian anarchist. “No, I’m Muslim now.”

Recently the pair were interrogated under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, which obligates detainees to hand over all electronics and removes their right to silence. But Ammori is not deterred. “When you do these types of actions, you do it with an understanding that you could end up in prison.” 

She cites South Africa’s ongoing genocide case against Israel in the International Court of Justice. “Our law says that we should not export arms if there’s a risk of it violating international law.” And support from local communities has increased since the war began. “General people don’t want an arms factory on their doorstep,” Barnard reflects. 

Palestine Action’s sustained disruptions since 2020 have forced Elbit to permanently close two of its factories and abandon its London headquarters. Their protest action also scuppered a £280m deal with the Ministry of Defence.

In 2022, artists in Gaza painted a mural depicting Palestine Action stopping “the war machine”. An “Elbit” conveyor belt, stamped with the British and Israeli flags, churns out a line of coffins. Palestine Action is pulling the “off” lever.

Ammori is optimistic that the group isn’t going anywhere. “I mean, once you’ve got your first factory down…”