The parents of a U.S. peace activist who was crushed
to death by an Israeli bulldozer built by the global machinery giant Caterpillar
confronted the company Wednesday for the first time and urged shareholders at
its annual meeting to end sales of "weaponized bulldozers to Israel."
Cindy and Craig Corrie, parents of the late Rachel Corrie, attended the meeting
as proxy voters on behalf of Jewish and Christian institutional investors who
have filed a resolution asking for greater corporate accountability from Caterpillar.
Activists supporting the parents who lost their daughter in 2003 say that the
company sells machinery to the Israeli army in violation of its corporate accountability
pledge and knowing full well that the equipment will be used for the destruction
of Palestinian homes and farms.
"We are part of a growing movement for corporate responsibility in the
United States," said Matt Gaines of the STOP
CAT campaign in a telephone interview from outside the shareholders' meeting
"Getting the U.S. government to take action on this issue has been very,
very difficult, even though we are still working on it. But we are taking it
directly to the corporations involved that are sponsoring, aiding, or abetting
war crimes," he said.
Caterpillar has become the poster child for U.S. companies that are being targeted
in divestment drives for their role in human rights abuses by the Israeli army
in occupied Palestinian land. It has said in the past that it bears no responsibility
for how its products are used by clients. Spokespersons from the company were
not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.
Rachel Corrie was killed in the town of Rafah while she and other members of
the International Solidarity Movement were trying to stop the demolition of
a Palestinian house in the Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003.
Caterpillar, Inc. built the nine-ton bulldozer that ran over Corrie, a 23-year-old
college student from Olympia, Wash. Her death made international headlines and
triggered widespread condemnation. Israeli courts have yet to prosecute anyone
for the incident.
The Illinois-based Caterpillar, which had annual sales and revenues of $36
billion last year more than half from overseas business has been
reluctant to disclose how much money it makes from its dealings with Israel.
Peace activists estimate that since Israel occupied Arab land in the 1967 war,
Caterpillar bulldozers have illegally razed the homes of more than 50,000 Palestinians.
They say that in the past five years alone, Caterpillar equipment was used to
uproot over one million olive trees owned by Palestinians.
The U.S. company has been repeatedly singled out by international human rights
bodies such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International,
and Human Rights Watch for complicity in rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian
But it is the divestment campaign mostly led by Christian institutional
investors, including the Presbyterian Church USA, the World Council of Churches,
the Church of England, and the Church of Scotland that has most alarmed
right-wing pro-Israel groups and the company.
The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a right-wing
Zionist organization, says that Corrie and other peace activists were hindering
the army's work to track down suspected terrorists and weapons smugglers.
Peace activists counter that as well as homes and roads, the Israeli army destroys
olive trees, farmland, and even water wells, hardly hideouts for terrorist suspects.
They point to a number of actions that have aimed to muzzle publicity given
to Corrie's death.
Recently, a play about Rachel Corrie's life that had two successful runs in
London was banned from the New York Theater Workshop after protests from some
Copies of the play, composed of letters and journal entries, and titled My
Name Is Rachel Corrie, were taken off bookshelves and only a few are now
available in the United States, the campaigners say.
And when Corrie's parents called on the State Department to investigate the
killing, their plea was rebuffed.
Writing in the conservative Jerusalem Post, Elwood McQuaid, a self-styled
"Christian Zionist" who served as the executive director of The Friends
of Israel Ministry in the U.S., characterized the corporate responsibility campaign
as part of a leftist conspiracy.
"What is at issue here has little to do with moral justice; but it has
much to do with radical, liberal, leftist obsession," the pastor wrote.
His words have not dissuaded Christian groups from discussing the issue further
on Christian and moral grounds. An intense debate is going on in Birmingham,
Ala., where thousands of delegates to the Presbyterian General Assembly are
to decide on future steps in their divestment drive.
Christian Zionist groups have also argued that divestment is the wrong approach
and called for more investments to build neighborly relations between Palestinians
and the Israelis.
But last week, the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus of the Presbyterian
Church said in a statement that while a positive investment strategy can be
constructive, it fails "to stop the Israeli government from confiscating
Palestinian property and expropriating Palestinian land."
(Inter Press Service)