Block the Bombs: Palestine activists protest Boeing facility in Missouri

Hidden in plain sight along a particularly drab stretch of Route 94, just west of the Missouri River in St. Charles, MO, lies a large, plain white building. Almost completely nondescript apart from its size, it is distinguishable from the road only by a pair of small signs identifying it as Boeing Building 598. It is, at present, perhaps the deadliest building in the state.

Amidst an ever-growing civilian death toll exacted by Israel’s relentless bombing campaign against Gaza, the displacement of the vast majority of the city’s 2 million residents, and numerous other human rights atrocities of various descriptions, the increasingly urgent calls for a ceasefire finally appear to have gained significant political momentum.

However, a United States-brokered dialogue will likely do little to address the many systemic factors that enabled this humanitarian catastrophe, one of which is the $3.8 billion in military aid Israel receives from the U.S. annually. And though few St. Louis area residents likely realize it, a large portion of this aid comes in the form of weapons produced in our own backyard.

You will find us there holding banners, blocking the gates, and making it unequivocally clear that we do not support Israel’s increasingly clear policy of genocidal intent and indiscriminate bombing, nor will we accept a company funded in large part by our tax dollars supplying the bombs.

The Payload We Are Paying For

As part of the St. Charles-based headquarters of Boeing’s Weapons Programs entity, Building 598’s facilities produce, among other things, the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB).

Activists protest outside Boeing Manufacturing Plant 598 in St. Charles, Missouri on Tuesday afternoon to protest the manufacturing of weapons used in the genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

These staples of Weapons Programs’ product portfolio make frequent appearances on lists of weapons transfers between the U.S. and Israel, and recently made headlines when Bloomberg reported that Boeing was rushing delivery of 1,800 JDAM kits and 1000 SDB units to Israel last month.

The SDB is a 250-pound class glide bomb favored for its precision and purported ability to limit collateral damage. While this claim is certainly relative at best, it is at least somewhat accurate when compared with the JDAM.

The JDAM is a guidance kit that turns otherwise unguided “dumb” bombs into “precision-guided smart munitions” by way of an aerodynamic tail section and a GPS-empowered guidance control unit. A U.S. Air Force fact sheet on the JDAM boasts that with GPS enabled, it is accurate to within 5 meters, which does sound fairly precise. Unless, of course, it is affixed to a 2,000-pound MK-84 warhead (like the ones used in an Oct. 31 air strike on the neighborhood of Jabaliya), which leaves a 40-foot crater on impact, leveling nearby buildings and shooting out lethal fragmentation to a radius of about 400 yards — or several city blocks.

To suggest that such a weapon was used with specific intent to target only Hamas operatives and limit collateral damage would be laughable, had the consequences not been so tragic. Entire families were wiped from the planet in moments, while others were torn apart — parents left searching through mountains of rubble for the broken bodies of their children.

How many such bombs could Israel possibly find a use for?

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfers Database, the US supplied Israel with 18,379 JDAM kits between 1999 and 2019, and 8,550 SDB units between 2010 and 2022. Both figures continue to grow after a $735 million sale agreed in 2021, which accounts for the bombs currently being rushed to Israel for use against Gaza.

These are the fruits of the labor that takes place inside Building 598, which even some of the workers are finding themselves increasingly unable to stomach.

In a recent Inkstick Media Substack post, a military veteran and labor leader in the Machinists union that represents local Boeing employees spoke with remarkable candor about the unease he feels when seeing the products he builds used against the innocent.

“I think that the fact that we make not just fighter jets but also ordinance means we have a special responsibility to speak out when the equipment that we produce is being used to wholesale murder women and children, because we enable that by producing those bombs,” he said. “We enable that by producing that fighter jet.”

Disentangling and Divesting

It is impossible to address Boeing’s role in this conflict without acknowledging how thoroughly integrated the company is in the economy of the Greater St. Louis metro area. Boeing Defense, Space & Security ranks among the largest employers in St. Louis with nearly 16,000 local employees, and it often feels as though almost everybody knows somebody who works there.

Activists protest outside Boeing Manufacturing Plant 598 in St. Charles, Missouri on Tuesday afternoon to protest the manufacturing of weapons used in the genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza.

When Boeing proposes a new facility or lands a new government contract, local politicians are quick to tout it as a huge opportunity for economic growth in the area and bend over backward to provide tax incentives.

In September, St. Louis County approved a $155 million tax break for Boeing, contingent upon landing a government contract for its proposed $2 billion expansion on land leased in the Lambert Airport area. The deal allows Boeing to pay only half of its real and personal property taxes for ten years, potentially depriving the County of what might otherwise be a key source of funding for services like school districts and public utilities.

Meanwhile, Boeing currently ranks as the fifth-largest defense contractor in the world, with a 2022 defense revenue of $30.8 billion, roughly 89 percent of which was earned pursuant to U.S. government contracts.

So, while American taxpayers represent the primary source of income for Boeing’s defense segment, many of its weapons are being shipped to a foreign government that is not accountable to American taxpayers and has no particular imperative to represent our interests. In fact, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 68% of American respondents agreed with the statement: “Israel should call a ceasefire and try to negotiate.”

As indicators of public opinion go, it doesn’t get much clearer. The American public does not endorse a reckless and inhumane campaign of near-constant airstrikes against what is largely a defenseless population of refugees.

With the U.S. government abdicating any responsibility to hold anyone involved accountable for their actions, we as citizens must do what we can. We may not have the reach to effect direct change on the ground in Gaza, but we can certainly reach St. Charles or St. Louis County.

We must communicate as loudly as possible, with both our words and actions, that we will not allow our city to be complicit in arming a genocide. The time for direct action is now.

This Op-Ed was written on behalf of a group of St. Louis organizers fighting for a free Palestine, and an immediate end to military aid and weapons sales to the occupying state of Israel. 

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