Pro-Palestinian Group Opposes Bulldozer Sales

House demolition, Shu’fat refugee camp, 9 July 2001

A coalition working to end the “Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories” says the U.S.-based Caterpillar Corporation is facilitating war crimes by selling bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Forces.

“The destruction of homes … is being used as a collective punishment against an occupied people,” said Mark Lance, an activist with Stop U.S. Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now (SUSTAIN). “[It’s] something that’s explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Conventions [and] is a crime under International law.”

Lance says Caterpillar is fully aware of what its equipment is being used for and, as such, should stop the sales.

“Supplying equipment that is being used to commit crimes against humanity, when you know that’s happening, is an impermissible action,” he continued. “Corporations have a responsibility.”

Because Caterpillar has not responded to their request for a meeting about the issue, Lance says SUSTAIN will take a variety of actions against the company, beginning with Wednesday’s press conference.

“That campaign will begin with education and letters and petitioning,” he explained. “We will then move on to protests, direct action, economic pressure … if that’s necessary.”

SUSTAIN’s ultimate goal, Lance admits, is to drive Israelis out of “occupied Palestine.”

“To end a 35-year illegal occupation that is the route cause of all the violence in the Middle East,” he added.

Caterpillar was chosen, Lance said, because military sales are a small part of their business.

“In fact, they have vastly more business with construction companies in the Arab world,” he said. “It’s rather easier to pressure a company to give up a small piece of its business than a major piece.”

Benjamin Cordani, a spokesman for Caterpillar, Inc., says there is nothing the company can do in response to SUSTAIN’s complaints.

“We have more than two million Caterpillar machines and engines working around the world, in virtually every corner of the world. And we have neither the legal right nor the means to police the use of that equipment,” he explained.

In fact, two federal laws - the Tax Reform Act of 1976 and the Export Administration Act - forbid U.S. companies from participating in boycotts against foreign governments approved to do business with American companies, without the permission of the U.S. government.

“Our sales to Israel, as with all other government around the world and individuals around the world, are conducted in full accordance with international law and U.S. law,” he added. “We work with the Bureau of Export Administration and the Office of Foreign Assets Control to insure our compliance.”

Caterpillar’s sales to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are facilitated through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program (FMSP), which was established during the 1978 Camp David Accord between President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat. Under the FMSP, U.S. funds are allocated for the purchase of American-made commercial products by approved foreign military forces such as the IDF.

Cordani says his employer is not oblivious to the suffering of both Israeli’s and Arabs caused by fighting in the Middle East.

“Caterpillar shares the world’s concern over unrest in the Middle East and we certainly have compassion for all those affected by the political strife,’ he said. “[But] we believe any comments on political conflict in the region are best left to our governmental leaders who have the ability to impact action and advance the peace process.”

An unidentified staff member in the press office at the embassy of Israel in Washington told that the Israeli government would have no comment on SUSTAIN’s accusations.