Israel uses Caterpillar equipment in apparent extrajudicial killing

Palestinians inspect the damage to a house demolished by Israeli forces in the West Bank village of Surif, 27 July. Muhammad al-Faqih, who was inside the house, was killed in the seven-hour overnight siege and assault.

Wisam Hashlamoun APA images

Israeli occupation forces used a Caterpillar excavator in the apparent extrajudicial execution of a Palestinian man, using the so-called pressure cooker procedure in which construction equipment is employed as a weapon, analysis by The Electronic Intifada shows.

Caterpillar, based in Peoria, Illinois, has long been the focus of boycott and divestment campaigns for selling equipment Israel uses in human rights abuses and war crimes, including the demolitions of homes and construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

Late on Tuesday night, Israeli forces massed in the town of Surif, near the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, and launched an assault on a house in which they besieged Muhammad al-Faqih. The Israelis eventually demolished most of the house with al-Faqih still inside.

Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, claims that al-Faqih, from the nearby village of Dura, carried out a shooting near Hebron earlier this month that caused the crash of a car, killing an Israeli settler and injuring his wife.

According to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, the Shin Bet, whose use of torture is systematic, accused al-Faqih of the killing after obtaining confessions from two other Palestinians who allegedly assisted him, including al-Faqih’s brother.

As the journalist and close observer of Israel’s occupation Marian Houk noted, Israeli media reproduced the Shin Bet’s allegations as fact “without an ounce [or] gram of doubt” and without the need for any judicial process.

Anti-tank missiles

Muhammad al-Faqih

The Israeli army claimed that its forces “called on the operative [al-Faqih] to surrender, and he responded by opening fire and hurling explosives.”

The army said that it “responded according to procedure and returned fire” and that al-Faqih “was killed in the exchange.”

Military spokespersons also told media that soldiers fired anti-tank missiles at the house and then used an excavator to destroy the building with al-Faqih inside.

Video published on YouTube shows Israeli soldiers pulling al-Faqih’s body from the rubble of the house and loading it into the excavator’s bucket before taking it away.

The Quds news website, citing witnesses, said dozens of Israeli military vehicles took part in the seven-hour siege and assault as drones circled overhead.

Village youths responded by throwing stones at Israeli forces, and several protesters were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets. Israel also sealed off the village, cut electricity and Internet services and barred Palestinian ambulances from entering the area.

The Ma’an News Agency reported that a woman was also injured during the operation and several people from Surif, including the owner of the badly damaged home, were detained.

The lethal raid comes amid massive Israeli closures and arrest sweeps in the Hebron area in recent weeks following attacks on Israeli settlers, including the killing of a 13-year-old child in her home. A field director with UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees, decried Israel’s closure for “collectively punishing innocent people for the acts of others.”

In his home village of Dura, al-Faqih’s family received condolences and his mother praised her son as a “hero” and as “stubborn,” adding that he would never have surrendered himself to Israeli forces.

“Pressure cooker”

While the Israeli army said that al-Faqih fired first, a claim that cannot be independently verified, the “procedure” its forces appear to have used is the “pressure cooker” in which construction equipment is deliberately used as a weapon, along with firearms and explosives.

Who Profits, a group that researches companies involved in Israel’s occupation, describes the pressure cooker procedure in a 2014 report on the use of construction machinery in Israel’s occupation.

Originally developed to handle alleged hostage-takers barricaded inside a building, the procedure was modified during the second intifada of the early 2000s and used against any Palestinians who were inside a house who Israeli forces wanted to detain.

First, the forces surrounding the house use a loudspeaker to order anyone inside to come out immediately. If the persons remain inside, the soldiers start shooting at the building first with small arms, then machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades and finally tank shells or missiles.

If the persons survive and still refuse to surrender, an armored bulldozer or excavator is sent to the scene. The bulldozer initially shakes the house and then starts peeling off the walls, ultimately destroying the house and burying the target of the attack beneath it.

“Although heavy engineering machinery clearly plays a significant role in the human rights violations caused by different types of house and property demolitions, its brutal use in the framework of the pressure cooker procedure upgrades it from a potentially deadly tool to a lethal weapon used systematically for extrajudicial killings,” Who Profits states.

In August 2014, Israeli forces used a militarized Caterpillar D9 bulldozer in a similar assault on a building in the village of Qabalan near the West Bank city of Nablus. Zakaria al-Aqra, the 24-year-old target of the attack, was killed, six of his relatives were wounded and the house was badly damaged during the eight-hour operation.

Armored excavator

Analysis of video and photos of the Israeli assault on Surif allows the large machine used to demolish the house where al-Faqih was besieged to be identified as the Bagger E-349 armored excavator.

As the Israeli army’s ground command website shows, this is a weaponized version of Caterpillar’s model 349E Hydraulic Excavator.

These images show the machine used in the Surif assault:

Still from a video shows the Bagger E-349 armored excavator, a weaponized Caterpillar machine, that was used in the “pressure cooker” killing of Muhammad al-Faqih in Surif overnight Tuesday.

Close-up image published by the Ma’an News Agency allows identification of excavator used in Surif killing as militarized version of Caterpillar 349E.

Still from a video shows the Bagger E-349 armored excavator, a weaponized Caterpillar machine, that was used in the “pressure cooker” killing of Muhammad al-Faqih in Surif overnight Tuesday.

For comparison, this image, published by the Israeli army, shows weaponized construction equipment being used during Israel’s assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014.

Tel Aviv University mathematician Zachi Evenor, an expert on Israeli military bulldozers, identifies them as a Bagger E-349 armored excavator (left) and a D9N armored bulldozer, both manufactured by Caterpillar:

Israeli army photo of Bagger E-349 armored excavator (left), and D9N armored bulldozer, both made by Caterpillar, in Gaza in August 2014. ([Israel Defense Forces](https://flic.kr/p/oi9P6N))

The D9 is the type of machine that an Israeli soldier used to kill American activist Rachel Corrie in Gaza in 2003.

This is another image of a Bagger E-349 operating in Gaza around the same time:

Still from Israeli army video shows weaponized Caterpillar excavator operating in Gaza in August 2014.

 

The image comes from an Israeli army video showing what appears to be a Bagger E-349 destroying so-called “terror tunnels” in Gaza in August 2014.

An independent UN inquiry into Israel’s assault on Gaza found that Palestinian resistance organizations used tunnels only to attack “legitimate military targets.”

This is the civilian version of the Caterpillar machine, as shown on the company’s website:

Promotional image of the Caterpillar 349E Hydraulic Excavator. A weaponized version is used by the Israeli army.

Catalog image of Caterpillar 349E Hydraulic Excavator. A weaponized version is used by the Israeli army.

“Primary weapon”

As long ago as 2004, Human Rights Watch called on Caterpillar to halt sales of bulldozers to Israel because of their use as a “primary weapon to raze Palestinian homes, destroy agriculture and shred roads in violation of the laws of war.”

Since then, pressure has mounted on Caterpillar as dozens of campaigns have urged institutions to divest from the firm. The Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ have voted to do so since 2014.

In 2012, Caterpillar was dropped from a leading index of socially responsible investments in part because of concerns over its products’ use by Israel to violate human rights.

Caterpillar has always tried to distance itself from the Israeli army’s use of its equipment but has done nothing to halt sales. The company says that the machines are not sold to Israel directly, but through the US government and that it “cannot monitor the use of every piece of its equipment around the world.” Caterpillar says that it does not militarize the machines it makes, but that this is done by Israel.

But photographs published by Evenor appear to show Israeli army weaponized bulldozers being serviced at Caterpillar corporate facilities in Israel, suggesting that the company’s complicity is more direct than it claims.

Additional research by Dena Shunra.

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Comments

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This story is very important, particularly since Israeli media have done little but echo official IDF descriptions of the killing.

It's worth remembering that Israel is supposed to be engaged in national debate about extrajudicial executions, now that the perpetrator of one such crime is on trial, if only for manslaughter. Don't be deceived. Israel's government wants everyone to know that executions are still SOP, except in the rare case when a killing is so egregious and plainly proved, and a low-ranking fall guy so handy, that a prosecution helps to paper over the army's image.

We may never know what really happened in this case. But if the IDF is prepared to knock a house down on top of a suspect, I think we can presume it's still open season on Palestinians generally.

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It is a sad and bitter irony indeed that perhaps the most dangerous, vicious, evil and vile criminal leader in the Middle East wasn’t from Iraq, or Libya, but in fact from Israel. Clearly so much of the violence and hatred and terrorism is a direct result of the crimes and atrocities committed by Israel. It would have been far better to have removed the nuclear weapons from Israel in 2001 and forced Israel back to the Pre1967 borders as mandated by international law instead of destroying 2/3’s of the entire Middle East killing millions, turning 10’s of millions into refugees, reducing entire cities to rubble, spending more than 7 Trillion dollars. The world in general and America in particular would have become a far better place than it is today.

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I wonder that if in America, families of firearm violence can sue the gun manufacture, Why can't they sue the company that made these machines... Just thinking -- Companies usually listen when they loose money.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.