At the end of October, reports emerged in the Israeli press that Caterpillar, the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, had temporarily suspended sales to Israel. The apparent reason for this suspension is an ongoing civil trial in the Israeli courts around the death of US peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Rafah refugee camp in 2003.
In response, activists claimed this news as a victory for the movement to end the sales of these machines to the Israeli military, which have destroyed at least 11,795 Palestinian homes over the last decade. As Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace wrote after the suspension was reported:
We take this as an indirect admission by the company that these bulldozers are being used to violate human rights and to violate the law. The Corrie story is sadly just one of thousands of stories of loss and pain.
Being born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, where Caterpillar has its world headquarters, I was thrilled to hear this news. Since so many people in the community depend on this corporation for their livelihoods, it can be a very difficult subject to raise during my visits home.
When I contacted the company for a comment on this story, however, I was quickly deflated. In an email, Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan told me that the company’s policy regarding its business with Israel “has not changed,” and said that the news was “was based on rumors or speculation.”
His response seemed to dodge my question, so I asked in a follow-up if rather than talking about policy, he could confirm the veracity of the claim that Caterpillar’s sales to Israel have been suspended, which seemed to be a different point. Dugan’s slick PR answer is revealing:
We have a practice of not responding to rumors, and that is what this appears to be.
Several media have reported that Caterpillar had announced a decision to suspend sales. We have made no such announcement.
His refusal to clearly deny the news would seem to verify its accuracy. If it wasn’t true, he could very easily have said so, rather than simply saying the company hasn’t announced a decision or that it “appears” to be a rumor.
That said, there is still no hard evidence that Caterpillar suspended its sales because of the Corrie trial, or that it is anything more than temporary. Hence, it seems premature for activists to declare this news a real victory. As Levy astutely noted, those concerned about justice in Palestine must not let their guards down now.
To urge the U.S. government to make this policy permanent, please sign the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s petition to President Obama to continue this new policy.
We need to hold both our government and corporations profiting from the occupation accountable. TIAA-CREF, one of the largest financial services in the United States, invests heavily in Caterpillar (over $250 million as of their last financial report). Please ask TIAA-CREF to divest from Caterpillar and other companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. If TIAA-CREF divests from Caterpillar, it will have a rippling impact everywhere.