Italians protest weapons sales to Israel at Alenia Aermacchi Headquarters


Stephanie Westbrook

On Saturday, 13 October 2012, over 2000 people marched from the Northern Italian provincial town of Venegono (Varese) to the headquarters of Alenia Aermacchi to protest the sale of 30 M-346 trainer jets to Israel. Alenia Aermacchi is part of the Finmeccanica Group, a partially state-owned conglomerate and one of the world’s top ten weapons producers.

Under an unusually heavy police presence – six police vans, police in riot gear and a helicopter overhead – demonstrators marched around Alenia Aermacchi’s 274,000 m² facilities, which include air and water tunnels as well as a landing strip, calling for revocation of the sale to Israel of M-346 trainer jets as well as the 2005 military cooperation agreement between the Italian and Israeli governments. These “trainer” jets are designed to carry a weapons payload of up to 3000 Kg. The very real possibility of the Palestinian people living under a brutal decades-long Israeli military occupation as targets for “field-testing” the M-346 escaped no one.

The demonstration was held in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society call for a comprehensive military embargo on Israel, as part of the larger boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, until Israel fulfills its obligations to comply with international law and respect human rights. Isreali BDS activists sent a statement in support of the demonstration, condemning “those who profiteer from the death and suffering of civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories, Lebanon and other parts of the world” and reminding Italian companies and institutions that when they engage in collaboration with Israeli military institutions they become complicit in Israeli violations of international law, including war crimes.

Long-time anti-war activist Father Alex Zanotelli spoke at the gates of Alenia Aermacchi, “The sole purpose of these weapons is to defend privilege and enforce oppression. With the $1740 billion spent on weapons in 2011, we could literally have paradise on earth.”

Only one of the six trade unions present at Alenia Aermacchi, Unione sindacale di base (USB), participated in the demonstration, attesting to the weight of oft used job related threats in an area rendered dependent on weapons production – the region is also home to AugustaWestland and Beretta. The organizers called on employees at Alenia Aermacchi as well as all arms manufacturers to stand up to these threats and work together to convert the factories to produce socially beneficial and environmentally friendly products.

Despite the economic crisis, there have been some positive signs of Italian workers refusing to become cogs in the war machine. In September 2011, engineers at Piaggio Aero Industries wrote to management refusing to “build death machines” after learning of a contract for drone development between Piaggio and the Israeli government. In July of this year, the Pisa-based Morellato, though facing major financial difficulties, refused a contract worth Euro 30,000 for Wass, a torpedo manufacturer and part of the Finmeccanica Group.

The march in Varese succeeding in creating a broad-based coalition, calling attention to the M-346 sale and Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people, and was also seen by many as a re-launch of the Italian anti-war and anti-militarization movements. As the current government continues to slash social spending and churn out cooperation agreements with belligerent countries such as Israel, this could not come at a better time.

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