“It is like any other trade exhibition. It is like the motor show in Birmingham or exhibitions at Earls Court. This happens to be for the defence industry.”
- Paul Beaver, spokesperson for DSEi organisers Spearhead.
Now - while SchNEWS knows that cars can kill and aren’t too good for the environment we reckon that Apache fighter jets, landmines and cluster bombs are just a tad more harmful to civilians. This is the sort of euphemistic blather coming from the suits this week at Europe’s biggest arms fair - Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi pronounced ‘dicey’) - the place where state terrorism is labelled ‘defence’, cluster bombs become ‘cargo ammunition’ and bombs are creatively called ‘air delivered weapons’. This week at the ExCel centre in east London the supposed ‘terrorist’ regimes were welcomed alongside the ‘good guys’ alike as ‘clients’ side by side, queuing up for weaponry. Luckily there were over 2,000 tooled up coppers to hold back the persistent direct action and blockades against the ‘fair with the scariest rides in town’.
To get an idea of what gets sold at the arms fair take cluster bombs: they’ve got a bad name because they contain many bomblets which often don’t explode in the initial attack - just like unexploded landmines. Already over 1,000 Iraqi kids have been injured by cluster bomblets since the ‘end’ of the war on Iraq. Doing a roaring trade in these is Israel Military Industries Ltd who are still licking their lips after flogging loads of cluster bombs to Britain before the war on Iraq. Britain’s largest arms company, BAE Systems, bought over 20,000 rounds of Israeli cluster weapons just before the Iraqi war. Then the British army went on to fire over 2,000 of these Israeli cluster bombs during the battle for Basra. DSEi welcomed another sketchy Israeli weapons producer, Rafael, who develop missile systems by testing them on Palestinian civilians. Their most infamous missile test was its Gill Spike missile test, which they first tested on a civilian home in Beit Jala in 2000.
Despite all the deceptive words and oppressive security a few thousand protestors took part in a flood of guerrilla actions and demonstrations over the four day arms fair. The police spokesperson, Greg Pig Trotters, said their operation was “very patient, very sensitive and very low key” - but this came as news to the people of Newham - the borough where the ExCeL exhibition centre is based - who witnessed the biggest ever police operation in the area. As one of the poorest boroughs in London, Newham locals called for the arms fair to be cancelled and would prefer the £1+ million spent on policing DSEito be channelled into regenerating their neighbourhoods.
In the run-up to DSEi the death fair’s organisers Spearhead had their offices occupied while at the same time people in rubber dinghys blocked DSEi warships. On Saturday morning DSEi attempted to sail 4 warships along the Thames to the ExCel Centre but, alas, 30 water-tight activists were there blocking the lock gates and the swing bridge with good ol’ D-locks. There was a four hour window in which the tide allowed entry into the docks so the last 2 ships had to abort their mission. During the week protesters posing as arms dealers joined the hundreds of other dealers and buyers on the trains to the ExCel Centre. Three suited protesters couldn’t wait for the fair and started selling their wares on the train: Announcing they had arms for sale they opened their brief cases revealing dismembered Barbie dolls’ arms.
Tuesday was declared a ‘day of non-violent direct action’ against DSEi with a Campaign Against the Arms Trade march attracting about 2,000 protesters. This culminated in the ‘Fluffy DSEi’ action, with the aim of blockading DSEi, where a crowd of about 1,000 protesters blocked the Connaught Bridge entrance to the fair. For the next few hours it was a game of cat ‘n’ mouse between agile glittery protesters and stroppy cops as protesters blockaded roundabout after roundabout, occupying a different main road every time the cops threatened arrests.
Wednesday, the ‘no rules direct action day’, started with an uncontrollable critical mass outside ExCel, and a protest at the London office of Israeli weapons make Rafael by Palestinian Solidarity group ISM. Meanwhile the suits streamed into the centre, many using the Docklands Light Rail (DLR), which was just asking for some direct action to blockade it. Over the course of the day the transport police had their work cut out removing locked-on protesters from the DLR carriages as loadspeakers at the stations apologised for delays saying it was due to - wait for it - ‘passenger action’.
While entry to the conference by train was being derailed, another sorted crew pushed a car out onto the road to block the eastern entrance of the centre, which was the beginning of a several hour blockade of the entrance. Meanwhile the road outside the centre was blocked at several points during the day.
Meanwhile six cunning activists had formed their own ‘arms company’ – the Affinity Group – with their own official website and business cards, and then applied for invitations to the death fair. They waltzed in, suited and accredited, and went on to occupy two tanks, daubing them in ‘Stop Death’ banners before they were chucked out by security.
Later in the day there was excitement at the Canning Town roundabout when the flyover above was shut down with a banner as a crowd stormed the roundabout until the robocops – tooled up and outnumbering protesters – pushed the line back. Then minutes later like the cavalry coming over the hill, the sound of samba drums and a flash of pink and silver saw the samba block take the roundabout again, though again the sheer number of coppers stopped anything lasting very long. Meanwhile local rudeboys from the nearby estate tucked in, egging on protesters and throwing eggs at coppers. Other locals took part in the actions while many sat on balconies shouting stuff like “Those coppers are denying you your rights, mate!”
While some of the actions were inspirational and we caused serious disruption at times, we didn’t shut down DSEi. We needed more people - what ever happened to the one million plus who marched against the war on Iraq in February? With 10,000 people in the Docklands on Wednesday instead of 1,000 we could have kicked the arms dealers out of London for good. We need to take the opportunity to kick the war-profiteering scumbags where it hurts, and the weapon should be mass direct action. At the next DSEi arms fair in two years, it’s up to us to make sure that the death fair bites the bullet.
* To see what really happened check out Indymedia, who’d run a media centre near ExCel the whole way through the week. http://www.indymedia.org.uk http://www.dsei.org
>>This and more at this weeks SchNEWS: