Staff writer Alicia Khan discusses the recent protests over the hosting of an armoured vehicles conference at Twickenham Stadium.
What was hosted at Twickenham?
From 22-25 January, the Rugby and Football Union (RFU)-owned Twickenham stadium hosted the ‘International Armoured Vehicles Conference 2024’ (IAVC) . This is an annual event lead by Defence IQ, who are one of the world’s largest military and research organisations. The IAVC was attended by both non-state and state actors . The event also included speakers from around the world, such as officers of the US and UK army and military companies.
Why was this so controversial?
This event sparked rapid controversy for many reasons; one of which was due to the event welcoming major military companies aiding the Israeli state in its ongoing attacks on Palestine. It is also significant to mention that through researching attendees of the event, only companies aiding the Israeli army were found, as the armed Palestinian group Hamas receive smuggled weapons or domestically manufactured arms . Therefore, this article will be focusing mainly on why the attendance of military companies aiding Israel was such a significant issue as well as the response the event got from this.
Elbit Systems is a weapons manufacturer, and one of the largest suppliers of the Israel Defence Ministry. This includes its artillery, fuelling its army with further aid to be used against Gaza. Rami Sokolower and John Reeve, both of whom represent and work to advance Elbit Systems, were both included on the panel of attendees welcomed by Twickenham stadium . Moreover, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems were another controversial attendee due to their production of military technology and weapons used by the Israel Defence Forces. So far, it has been stated by Gaza’s Minister of Health that more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks since 7 October, 2023.
Why is the RFU significant to the controversy of the event?
With the rise of many people protesting against Israel’s attacks against Palestine, this event, whereby the stadium welcomed these companies, resulted in an increase in controversy and action against the conference. Moreover, with the RFU owning the stadium, known to many as the ‘home of rugby’, great disappointment as well as anger was felt towards the RFU for their lack of action. This lack of action directly links to the stadium profiting off the event which welcomed companies responsible for the increasing death toll in Gaza. Furthermore, Richmond and Kingston Palestine Solidarity Campaign, as well as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, took to social media in the run up to the event taking place to express concern and anger towards the RFU, pleading with them to #GetWarOutOfRugby, and #StopArmingIsrael. They sought that the event be cancelled due to the current atrocities taking place in Gaza. Therefore, it was clear that many felt that the event at Twickenham should not have taken place and that the RFU was responsible for failing to cancel it. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that even if the event had taken place elsewhere, with many people being much more aware of what is taking place in Palestine, it is likely that there would still have been protests to attempt to cancel the welcoming of Israel Defence suppliers, such as Elbit and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
What was the response to the event?
In the lead up to the event taking place, many individuals as well as activist organisations took to social media to spread the message of what was scheduled to take place at Twickenham. Most significantly, a protest was quickly organised by Richmond and Kingston Palestine Solidarity Campaign (RKPSC). This was reposted and shared by hundreds online, demanding the RFU to stop the event, and the hosting of Israeli military companies. The protest held outside the stadium beginning in the early afternoon of 22 January attracted many demonstrators including the local people of Twickenham, voicing their support with the Palestinian solidarity campaign. Hundreds of people protested outside the stadium holding signs such as, “Your weapons are killing children” and “Twickenham is being used for arms sales”. Although the protest had a large outcome of support, this was not the end of the action taken against the event. Activist group, Palestine Action, also sprayed the exterior of the stadium in red paint, spelling out the words ‘Free Gaza’.
What happens next ?
For now, the recent event hosted at Twickenham has come to an end, however an additional military conference is set to take place from 27-29 February known as the International Military Helicopter 2024, again to be hosted by the RFU’s Twickenham stadium. This event will also be attended by Israeli weapons developers Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and therefore will most definitely be protested in the run up to the event. RKPSC have indicated that they intend to make their presence known again when the time comes.