Australian university complicit in Israel’s crimes

Issue 
Cartoon: Carlos Latuff

The international boycott campaign against the world’s third largest defence company is about to arrive in Australia and the first battleground may be at RMIT University in Melbourne.

Palestine solidarity activists have focused a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign on the Max Brenner chocolate store chain, a subsidiary of the Strauss Group, which supplies and supports the Israeli army. This year however, cross-campus activist based group Students for Palestine has decided on a new target.

Meet BAE Systems — short for British Aerospace Engineering.

BAE Systems is a defence company worth $US38 billion. They make everything from assault rifles, missiles, tanks, drones, nuclear weapons, and even the shackles used in Guantanamo Bay. BAE has been targeted because of the horrifying weapons systems it sells to Israel.

Israel has been making good use of the destructive products it gets from the company.

An Israeli Occupation Forces helicopter began indiscriminately shooting on a field where children were playing soccer in the village of Abassan in the Gaza strip in November last year.

Thirteen-year-old Ahmed Abu Daqqa was killed by a shot to the abdomen. In the following days Israel began Operation Pillar of Cloud, only the latest military assault on Gaza’s civilian population. The assault lasted eight days and killed more than 160 Palestinians, including 30 children and injuring hundreds more.

Background check: BAE Systems

Between 2000 and 2009, BAE had contracts with the US government worth US$460 million. BAE supplies components for major US weapons systems that are then sold to Israel including F-16 fighter jets.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) used these fighter jets when bombing Lebanon in 2006, and during the last two attacks on Gaza. BAE also supplied the “Suter” airborne attack system Israel used when bombing Syria in 2007.

BAE fit F-16 jets with “Head-Up Displays”, which are transparent data displays in front of the windscreen to allow a pilot to lock onto a “target” without having to look down at the cockpit instruments. The “target” they refer to has been Lebanese and Palestinian villages that have been reduced to rubble.

Another home market for BAE is Saudi Arabia, which used these weapons against pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain during the Arab Spring. BAE has an Israeli subsidiary, BAE Rokar International that manufactures three main products: “Combat-proven” electronic warfare systems for helicopters and warplanes, Rokar being the sole supplier of these to the Israeli military; global positioning systems and their accompanying rockets; and unmanned aerial vehicles — drones.

Elbit Systems, also a BDS target, is an Israeli-owned weapons manufacturer with a $315 million contract with the Israeli army. Elbit Systems also has huge contracts with the Australian military. BAE Systems Australia in Adelaide has a $4.9 million subcontract with Elbit Systems to fit Australian Defence Force vehicles with communications systems. These are just a few million reasons why Prime Minister Julia Gillard won’t be condemning Israel any time soon.

Where does RMIT fit into all of this?

RMIT University in Melbourne, through its Aerospace Engineering Department, has been in the firing line due to its role providing research and development that helps Israel’s continued destruction of Palestinian lives.

The department has undertaken research and development in collaboration with BAE Systems under the research body Defence Materials Technology Centre. DMTC research is conducted for the Australian army and the weapons industry, which BAE Systems then sells on to Israel.

The DMTC board of directors includes a professor in RMIT’s engineering department. The CEO of DMTC also sits on the Advisory Board of RMIT’s Sir Lawrence Wackett Centre. The Lawrence Wackett Centre at RMIT’s Bundoora campus is where research on drones is conducted. RMIT undergraduate students can even take the subject AERO 2464 Engineering Principles of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

In January, RMIT held a public forum on drones. Professor Kevin Massey of the school of Aerospace Engineering said while drones have mostly been used in combat situations, they are presently being adopted for civilian law enforcement and border security agencies.

The irony of RMIT being a place where students receive an education to help prepare them for the rest of their life, also being a place that is researching more efficient weapons of death and destruction has not been lost on Students For Palestine.

As part of the BDS campaign, Students for Palestine have arranged a protest at RMIT’s city campus to demand RMIT sever ties with BAE Systems. RMIT’s complicity in the hellish situation of Palestinians must be challenged.

[The protest will take place on March 30 at midday at the Victorian State Library. Lauren Stevenson is a member of RMIT’s Students For Palestine.]

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