“Caterpillar betrays its stated values when it sells bulldozers to Israel knowing that they are being used to illegally destroy Palestinian homes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Until Israel stops these practices, Caterpillar’s continued sales will make the company complicit in human rights abuses.”
In a letter to Caterpillar’s chief executive officer and board of directors, Human Rights Watch on October 29 called on the company to cease all sales to the Israeli military of the D9, as well as parts and maintenance services, so long as the military continues to use the bulldozer to violate international human rights and humanitarian law.
Caterpillar’s CEO James Owens responded to Human Rights Watch in a letter dated November 12 by saying the company did “not have the practical ability or legal right to determine how our products are used after they are sold.” This head-in-the-sand approach ignores international standards on corporate social responsibility and the requirements of Caterpillar’s own code of conduct.
Since 2003, the United Nations has begun to develop standards for corporations in the form of the U.N. Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights. This document states that companies should not “engage in or benefit from” violations of international human rights or humanitarian law and that companies “shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights.”
Caterpillar’s own code of conduct requires it to consider the broad impact of its business. The company’s Code of Worldwide Business Conduct states that “Caterpillar accepts the responsibilities of global citizenship.” The company’s commitment to financial success, the code says, “must also take into account social, economic, political and environmental priorities.”
Caterpillar makes the D9 to military specifications and sells the bulldozers to Israel as weapons under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program, a government-to-government program for selling U.S.-made defense equipment. Once exported to Israel, the bulldozers are armoured by the state-owned Israel Military Industries Ltd. Weighing roughly 64 tons, the armored D9 is more than 13 feet tall and 26 feet long with front and rear blades.
A Human Rights Watch report released last month, “Razing Rafah,” documented the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) systematic use of the D9 bulldozer in illegal demolitions throughout the occupied Palestinian territories. The IDF has demolished over 2,500 Palestinian homes over the past four years in the Gaza Strip alone, most of them without the military necessity required by international humanitarian law.
Nearly two-thirds of those homes were in Rafah, a town and refugee camp on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. The Israeli military has used the Caterpillar bulldozer to raze the homes of more than 10 percent of the population in Rafah. The government plan to expand a “buffer zone” along the border would entail the destruction of hundreds more homes. In May, the IDF destroyed more than 50 percent of Rafah’s roads and damaged more than 40 miles of water and sewage pipes with a blade on the bulldozer’s back known as “the ripper.”
“We found no legal justification for the senseless destruction of infrastructure essential to the health of the civilian population,” Whitson said.
The IDF claims the destruction is militarily necessary to block smugglers’ tunnels from Egypt and to protect its forces, which regularly come under fire from Palestinian armed groups. Human Rights Watch found that the IDF has failed to use well-established methods of tunnel detection and destruction—like seismic sensors, electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar—which would obviate the need for home demolitions. In terms of protecting its soldiers, the IDF completed construction of an 8-meter-high metal wall in 2003 but despite this extra protection, the rate of home demolitions in Rafah tripled in comparison with the previous two years.
A 23-year-old American activist, Rachel Corrie, was run over and killed last year by an armored D9 when she was trying to block the bulldozer from destroying a Rafah home. At least three Palestinians have been killed by the bulldozer and falling debris in the last two years because they could not flee their homes in time.
In April, a group of Caterpillar shareholders presented a resolution at the annual shareholder meeting that called on the company to investigate whether bulldozer sales to the Israeli military violated Caterpillar’s code of conduct. Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest grassroots Jewish peace group in the United States, announced today that it had resubmitted the resolution for the 2005 shareholders meeting.