bulldozers that wreck
Caterpillars weapon of destruction
28 June 2002
ERIC RUDER explains how the U.S. corporation
Caterpillar provides Israel with weapons of terrible destruction,
and reports on the efforts of pro-Palestinian activists to organize
divestment campaigns targeting Caterpillar and other companies.
TEN MINUTES. Thats all the time that Israeli officials gave
Saleem Shawamreh to get his family and belongings out of his home.
They came without warning, issued the ultimatum--and then used two
Caterpillar D9 bulldozers to flatten his house.
Shawamreh stood nearby with his wife, Arabia. "Seeing your
home destroyed is like losing a life," he said. "It is
a terrible thing." And Shawamreh should know. This is the third
time in four years that he has had to stand by and watch as military
authorities demolished his house.
Since 1967, Israel has demolished more than 7,000 residences in
the West Bank and Gaza, leaving about 50,000 Palestinians homeless.
But the pace has quickened since the new Palestinian uprising, or
Intifada, began in September 2000.
The usual excuse is that the demolished homes didnt have
construction permits. In fact, different building "regulations"
for Palestinians and Israelis are a cornerstone of Israels
apartheid system. By denying permits to Palestinians--while authorizing
massive construction projects and tax incentives for Jewish settlements
in the Occupied Territories--Israel hopes to squeeze Palestinians
onto ever-smaller bits of land. House demolitions are designed to
break up concentrations of Palestinians and clear the way for the
ever-expanding settlements--in direct violation of international
Caterpillar bulldozers are used for more than house demolitions.
Since the Intifada began, Israeli troops and settlers using Caterpillar
equipment have uprooted an estimated 385,000 olive trees--not to
mention orchards of dates, prunes, lemons and oranges. The economic
hardship this has imposed on thousands of Palestinians comes on
top of already dire levels of unemployment and poverty in the Occupied
Meanwhile, whenever a "suitable" pretext presents itself,
Israeli troops use bulldozers to inflict "collective punishment."
In January, for example, Israeli forces destroyed more than 60 homes
in the Gaza refugee camp of Rafah, leaving more than 600 Palestinians
Even Israels mainstream Haaretz newspaper described
the demolitions as "destruction on a systematic, collective,
and indiscriminate level against innocent civilians, whose only
sin was the place where they lived."
But the height of Israels barbarism was reached during its
April offensive in the Jenin refugee camp. In a little more than
a week, at least 140 buildings were flattened and 200 more severely
damaged, leaving an estimated 4,000 people homeless--more than a
quarter of the camps population.
"The alley was just three feet wide before the Israeli army
sent its heavily armored Caterpillar D-9 down what is now a rutted
track," Time magazine reported. "As you walk along it
feet raise little puffs of dust from the rubble of what were once
concrete homes. The path is covered with the litter of war--broken
sea-green ceramic tiles, a punctured cooking-gas cylinder, a thin
foam mattress, a blond-haired baby doll."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon--whose nickname is "The
Bulldozer"--hoped that the April offensive would deal the Palestinian
resistance a death blow. He was wrong--just as he was wrong three
decades ago when he ordered hundreds of homes bulldozed in Gaza.
The Palestinian resistance continues. It needs our support. By
raising the connection between Israels assault on Palestinians
and U.S. corporations like Caterpillar that provide the tools, we
can expose U.S. backing for Israels dirty, colonial war.
"Caterpillar is committed to enabling positive and responsible
growth around the world, and we believe in the value of social
and environmental responsibility
As a global company,
we use our strength and resources to improve the lives of
our neighbors around the world."
--From Caterpillars statement on social
"When they told me to destroy a house, I took advantage
of it and ruined a few more
The soldiers warned with
a speaker that the tenants must leave before I come in, but
I did not give anyone a chance
Jenin empowered me. I
answered to no one."
--Israeli reservist Moshe Nissim who operated
a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer during Israels assault on
Jenin in April
Heres what you
--Call on Caterpillar to stop selling bulldozers to Israel. Write
to Caterpillar Corp., 100 N.E. Adams St., Peoria, IL 61629. Telephone:
309-675-1000. Fax: 309-675-4388. E-mail CEO Glen Barton: email@example.com.
--If youre a student, find out if your school invests in
Caterpillar. Build a divestment campaign with petitions, leaflets,
speak-outs and pickets.
--Organize a picket at Caterpillars corporate offices. Go
to www.caterpillar.com on the Web for a list of locations.
The last divestment
Divestment was a central demand of the 1970s and 1980s movement
in solidarity with Black South Africans fighting the racist apartheid
regime. People in the U.S. who were outraged by the barbarism of
white minority rule rightly saw the effort to get U.S. institutions
to cut their ties to South Africa as a concrete form of support.
Apartheid depended on the backing of the U.S. government. Few American
political leaders openly embraced the South African racists, but
most were content to mouth phrases about the need for change--while
maintaining the behind-the-scenes connections that kept apartheid
going. The determination of anti-apartheid activists changed this.
The solidarity movement in the U.S. hit a high point in the mid-1980s--in
response to the explosion of Black struggle in South Africas
workplaces and townships. In particular, college students adopted
the call for divestment, demanding that their schools get rid of
investments in corporations that did business in South Africa.
On April 4, 1985, students at Columbia University in New York City
blockaded a classroom building. What they had expected to be a brief
protest involving a few dozen people lasted for weeks, with hundreds
participating. In a matter of weeks, the example of Columbia inspired
action at literally hundreds of campuses across the country.
Coming in the middle of the Reagan decade, the movement showed
that--in spite of the seeming apathy of the times--tens of thousands
of people wanted to take a stand against racism.
Although few universities were actually forced to fully divest,
the struggle had an impact. By the fall of 1985, Ronald Reagan had
to abandon his see-no-evil policy of "constructive engagement"
and impose sanctions.
The measures were mostly toothless, but they came as U.S. banks
were withdrawing loans, sparking a financial crisis. The racists
never again ruled with the same confidence.
Cats war on
Caterpillar fought an aggressive war on its own U.S. workers, represented
by the United Auto Workers (UAW), during the 1990s.
Management went to the wall in two bitter strikes in 1991-92 and
1994-95 in an explicit attempt to break the back of union power.
Because of years of struggle and the power of the UAW, Cat workers
had managed to win decent job security and solid wages.
But when the unions contract expired in 1991, management
demanded concessions. UAW members were ready for a fight to defend
their jobs. Unfortunately, union leaders werent--and ultimately
ended the strike after six months, when management threatened to
The bosses kept up their assault, and pressure from workers forced
the union to call a second strike in 1994. The UAW won a string
of "unfair labor practices" charges against management,
but the company managed to keep up production with scabs--and raked
in record profits.
At the end of 1995, union leaders again told strikers to go back
to work without a contract. But 12 Cat workers didnt return--they
had committed suicide during the 17-month-long walkout.
Management set out to harass and humiliate UAW members. More than
100 workers were disciplined for such "crimes" as wearing
a union T-shirt, refusing to shake hands with scabs or for even
saying the word "scab."
Yet UAW members continued to reject Cats miserable contract
proposals--until they won back the jobs of workers fired during
The effort to expose Caterpillar for its support of Israels
reign of terror is part of the fight to win a better life for Palestinians--and
for workers in the U.S.