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Campaign Against Caterpillar Revs Up

By: 
Mark Lance
Date Published: 
February 01, 2005
    For perhaps the first time in the history of Palestinian solidarity activism in the US, the majority of organizations working against the occupation are coming together around a single long-term campaign.

For decades the Caterpillar Corporation has supplied bulldozers to the Israeli military for use in home demolitions, as well as the construction of settlements on Palestinian territory and more recently of the Apartheid Wall. This corporate support for crimes against humanity was criticized frequently by groups like the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, and Christian Peacemaker Teams over the years, but it wasn’t until early in the second Intifada that the idea of a focused campaign against Cat’s sales to the Israeli military was proposed. Recently, the Presbyterian Church US voted for a phased targeted divestment from companies supporting the Occupation. And Human Rights Watch has just called on Cat to end its sales to the IDF. Why CAT? There were several reasons for focusing activist pressure on Caterpillar:

    * Given the great resistance to any such work, a focused campaign around one company has a much better chance of success than launching directly into a broad based campaign against all corporate support for Israel. * Any victory against a major supplier of the Occupation is important. If we can force one major corporation to suspend sales to the IDF, and to state publicly that it is doing so because of violations of international law with its equipment, this will be a huge victory, one that will make each future step that much easier. * Caterpillar is largely a public company. Most of their sales are to private construction companies, so they are more vulnerable to pressure in terms of their image than is, say, a company whose primary business is military. * Caterpillar does only a very small part of its business with the IDF, so it is possible for it to end these sales without devastating consequences for the company. * The evil of home demolitions – actions that directly target civilians and civilian infrastructure – is easy to see. * A Cat bulldozer was used to kill American solidarity activist Rachel Corrie, a fact that brings home the reality and violence of the occupation vividly to the American people. * Cat has offices in every state, nearly every major city, and most countries throughout the world, so it is easy to target with local activism.

Opposition growing Early on, the main groups working on the campaign were SUSTAIN (Stop US Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now), JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace), and some ISM support groups, notably in Chicago. In the summer of 2003, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation took on the campaign as its main activist focus. In the last few months it has organized a national network of Cat Campaign contacts – local activists who will serve to coordinate education and action around Cat nationally. JVP has taken the lead in drafting a shareholder’s resolution that calls on Cat to launch an investigation into whether its equipment is being used to violate international law. This resolution will be reintroduced in April. The Presbyterian Church has pledged to vote its Cat stock in favor of the JVP resolution. Shortly before resolution is introduced, there will be a national day of action against Cat. Check the US Campaign’s website, http://www.endtheoccupation.org, for the exact day. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mark Lance is Professor of philosophy and professor of justice and peace at Georgetown University. He has been an activist in anti-war, economic justice, and international solidarity movements for two decades. He can be reached at abuemma (at) mac.com