APSN Banner

Gripping account of women's hammer blow against East Timor bloodletting

Morning Star - April 11, 2016

Review by Ian Sinclair – "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." The Hammer Blow is the perfect illustration of anthropologist Margaret Mead's famous quote.

This barnstorming read tells the extraordinary story of how, in January 1996, author Andrea Needham along with nine other female activists worked to disarm a British Aerospace Hawk jet which was about to be sent to Indonesia.

Led by the murderous dictator Suharto, in 1975 Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony of East Timor and proceeded to carry out what US dissident Noam Chomsky described as "one of the greatest bloodlettings in modern history compared to total population."

Approximately 200,000 people – about a third of the total population – are reported to have died by the mid-1990s, with the Indonesian forces using the British-made Hawk jets to subdue the East Timorese.

Appalled by the British government aiding and abetting Indonesia's genocidal actions, and having unsuccessfully lobbied British Aerospace and the government, the 10 women formed an affinity group to explore how, using direct action, they could stop the slaughter.

The preparation for what is now known as the Seeds of Hope East Timor Ploughshares Action took 10 long months and Needham explains the group bonded over a number of weekends including lengthy "life-sharing" sessions and discussing questions of militarism, patriarchy, co-operation with authority, secrecy and openness and when is it right to break the law.

Needham's account of sneaking into the British Aerospace factory at Warton and disarming the Hawk by hammering and smashing parts of the aircraft is absolutely riveting. Eventually discovered by security, the three women who carried out the action – Needham, Jo Blackman and Lotta Kronlid, along with Angie Zelter – were arrested.

Reasoning that they acted to prevent a larger crime, their subsequent trial in Liverpool is a fascinating and uplifting example of passionately principled people presenting their case to the conservative British legal system.

"I'm not breaking the law, I'm upholding it," Kronlid told the prosecutor. After six months on remand in prison and a huge support campaign publicising their actions the four women were acquitted on July 30 1996 to jubilant scenes outside the court.

"In 20 years of resistance we were never able to shoot down an aircraft," East Timor's future president Jose Ramon Horta wrote in a letter to the women in prison. "You did it without even firing a single shot and without hurting the pilot."

Frustratingly, after its election in 1997, Tony Blair's government, with Robin Cook as foreign secretary, refused to stop arming Indonesia. That exposed Labour's "ethical foreign policy" for the sham it was, notes Needham.

Yet the action of these dedicated activists arguably played a role in ending the occupation of East Timor and will inspire fellow activists for years to come.

Source: http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-3c32-Gripping-account-of-womens-hammer-blow-against-East-Timor-bloodletting