News   /   Palestine   /   Feature

Merrimack 3: Pro-Palestine activists on trial in US for disrupting Israeli arms firm

By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Red paint poured from the roof of a building, erasing the signs, front door and windows of the US branch of Elbit Systems, Israel’s biggest weapons supplier, in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

On November 20, 2023, Sophie Ross, Bridget Shergalis, and Calla Walsh, three pro-Palestine activists climbed onto Elbit Systems’roof and defaced the building with red paint to show the arms manufacturer that it cannot get away with genocide in the Gaza Strip.

The three protesters are members of the US branch of Palestine Action, a group that uses direct action tactics to shut down and disrupt the Israeli regime’s multinational arms dealers, in particular, those who provide weapons used in Israel’s genocidal campaign against Palestinians in Gaza.

Walsh, 19, Ross, 22, and Shergalis, 27, were charged with riot, conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, burglary, and conspiracy to commit falsifying physical evidence for confronting the Israeli-linked arms factory, whose weapons have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7.

According to the New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General, each of the above-mentioned charges is punishable by 3.5 to 7 years in the state prison.

Each of them could face a prison sentence of up to 28 years for disrupting the production of weapons used to murder Palestinians in Gaza for nearly five months.

Elbit, predictably, maintains close ties with local politicians in New Hampshire in order to shield it from angry pro-Palestine activists and have them booked under harsh laws.

State Attorney General John Formella, who took control of the case in January, openly claimed that the targeting of Elbit amounted to “antisemitic” activity, equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

“We will do everything we can to ensure that these cases are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and that justice is served,” he was quoted as saying soon after taking office.

Shortly after the protest, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) also said the action must be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”, building a case against pro-Palestine activists.

The antiwar group CODEPINK revealed earlier that Shaheen has taken at least $10,500 in campaign contributions from Elbit Systems, which is the Israeli regime’s largest military contractor.

On Thursday, the three young women appeared in Nashua Court. The state presented the three with plea agreements that could keep the cases from going to trial.

They are all due back in court in April for a dispositional conference.

A fourth person, Paige Belanger, 32, was arrested in connection with the protest in January. She is also charged with riot, criminal trespass and criminal mischief, but she has yet to be indicted by a grand jury.

‘A desperate attempt’

Palestine Action said in a statement in late November that hitting Elbit “in the belly of the beast [the US]” shows that the movement which began in England is now spreading across the world and posing a “very real threat” to Israel’s military apparatus.

“Hitting Elbit in the US is arguably the bravest and most crucial step global actionists could take,” it said.

The group added that charging the three “heroes” who “selflessly put themselves on the line” with felony reveals that the US is taking any possible measures “to intimidate the burgeoning movement.”

In a statement in late January, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, joined the international calls from many other pro-Palestine organizations urging the New Hampshire officials to drop all charges against the three activists, known as the Merrimack Three.

“The Merrimack Three’s direct action called attention to the web of interconnected, profit-motivated systems responsible for maintaining US hegemony across the globe. Demonstrating against this Elbit facility helped to reveal the corporations in our neighborhoods that are directly involved in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” read the statement.

It said that “repressing and criminalizing” the Palestine solidarity movement is a means to “quell mass movements” and popular resistance that is growing across the world.

The heavy-handed charges levied against the Merrimack Three by the Hillsborough County Superior Court are a “desperate attempt” to make an example out of them, it added.

Profiteering from genocide

Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest weapons manufacturer, supplies 85 percent of the occupying regime’s drone fleet along with 85 percent of its land-based equipment and internationally banned weapons, which are mainly used to kill and maim Palestinians.

The company also maintains the surveillance technology deployed at the apartheid wall, Gaza border, and military checkpoints to ensure and consolidate Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinian people.

In late October, two weeks into the war on Gaza, Elbit Systems President and CEO Bezhalel Machlis boasted that the company is “critical” to the ongoing genocide and has been thanked by the Israeli military for its services.

Analysts say the genocidal attacks on Gaza, which continue to escalate, provide Israel’s arms manufacturers with opportunities to test and develop their latest lethal inventions.

Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist who has investigated how Israeli weaponry and surveillance technology is used on Palestinians and exported around the world in his book The Palestine Laboratory, said that Israel is “live-testing” and marketing its new weapons in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel is already, as we speak, as I’ve been documenting in the last month, live-testing new weapons in Gaza, showing it on social media, how they’re working. That’s not just for a domestic and international public, but also other countries that might want to buy those weapons in months and years ahead,” he wrote.

Doctors in Gaza have been reporting that they are seeing injuries on Palestinians unlike anything they have seen before, which also suggests that Israel is once again testing new weapons in the current war.

Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, said in a press statement in November that medical teams in the besieged coastal territory had “observed severe burns on the bodies of Palestinians who were killed and wounded by Israel’s bombs – whether caused by an unknown weapon or not – is something they have not seen in previous conflicts.”

Dr. Ahmed el-Mokhallalati from the burn and plastic surgery division at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, in an interview with the Toronto Star in October, described the wounds as “very deep”.

“The wounds are very deep – third and fourth-degree burns, skin tissue is impregnated with black particles and most of the skin thickness and all the layers underneath are burned down to the bone.”

On October 22, 2023, the Israeli Air Force announced it had used the “Iron Sting” missiles, developed by Elbit, for the first time in Gaza.

Palestine Action

Palestine Action, founded in July 2020, has since kept on targeting Elbit Systems for its role in arming Israel, primarily in the UK, which has been a safe haven for the factory for over a decade.

The UK-based grassroots movement is attempting to “end British complicity with the colonization of Palestine,” and is now spreading to other locations like the US.

Palestine Action mainly uses various forms of “direct action” to get its point across by spray-painting offices, locking on factories, blocking roadways and preventing access to Elbit sites.

“With direct action, you know that it’s making a difference, because every day that we occupy Elbit’s factories or force it to close is a day that their weapons are not being made and won’t be used to hurt Palestinians,” Torch, a 21-year-old actionist from Brighton, said.

Through its relentless and unmatched campaigns, Palestine Action caught the attention of people in the highest echelons of power in the UK within its first weeks of direct actions against Elbit.

“Just a few weeks after launching the campaign, Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs and their [military] minister met with the British government to discuss ‘crushing our movement’; They understood the power of direct action, and so did we,” Huda Ammori, a co-founder of Palestine Action, said.

Growing stronger over the years, Palestine Action has successfully shut down Elbit businesses around 100 times over the first year and a half since the movement was launched.

In June 2022, following its sustained protests that saw at least 60 campaigners arrested, Elbit Systems was forced to vacate its London Headquarters.

The campaign also forced Elbit Systems to shut down and sell its subsidiary factory in Oldham, Manchester, in January 2022.

Ammori estimated at the time that in selling its Oldham factory, Elbit lost six million pounds.

In recent months, after the Israeli war on Gaza, major firms have cut ties with Elbit in response to a direct action campaign by Palestine Action in the UK as well as in the US.

In late November, iO Associates, the sole recruiters for the British operations of Elbit, confirmed via email to Palestine Action that they ended their association with the weapons company.

In mid-December, property managers for Elbit Systems’ Shenstone drone factory, Fisher German, announced they cut ties with the Israeli arms manufacturer.

Last month, in an email to Palestine Action, transportation giants Kuehne+Nagel (K+N) declared they have ended all ties with Elbit Systems, and will not be working with them again in the future.

Nonetheless, like the Merrimack Three, actionists keep getting arrested and facing heavy charges.

In mid-November, eight Palestine Action activists, including Ammori, faced a total of 12 charges which included criminal damage, burglary and encouraging criminal damage for actions the court claimed they had taken during the first 6 months of Palestine Action’s existence from July 2020 to January 2021. 

The group, known as “Elbit Eight”, was acquitted in December for lack of evidence.

Richard Barnard, 51, a co-founder of Palestine Action, said during the Elbit Eight trial that their actions are not criminal and aim at stopping bombings in the Gaza Strip.

“The only criminals here are Elbit Systems. They are the people killing people for profit, they are the ones facilitating genocide as we speak,” he asserted.

Press TV’s website can also be accessed at the following alternate addresses:

Press TV News Roku