In the Spirit of Rachel Corrie:
Confronting Caterpillar in San Leandro
By BEN TERRALL
Reprinted from CounterPunch
On the second anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, killed by a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer while defending the home of a Palestinian civilian, around sixty people gathered at the gates of the Peterson Tractor Company in San Leandro, California. The activists, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace [www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org], held a spirited protest against Caterpillar's continuing sales of bulldozers to the U.S. Department of Defense (which are then delivered to the Israeli military under a Foreign Military Sales Agreement).
As a line of protestors displayed banners to passing traffic condemning Israeli Defense Forces use of CAT equipment to destroy Palestinian homes, others gathered at a partly open gate and began saying Kaddish, the traditional jewish prayer for the dead, for Corrie. (Jewish Voice for Peace also paid tribute to Corrie in this fashion last year, when they swarmed into Peterson's corporate offices on the first anniversary of her death.)
Penny Rosenwasser, one of six activists who managed to get inside the gate before police and company security kept others outside, spoke over a bullhorn about the grim reality of what CAT equipment does in the occupied territories. Rosenwasser recalled how on a 2001 International Solidarity Movement trip to Rafah refugee camp she witnessed the wreckage of 200 houses which had been demolished the night before by CAT bulldozers; the local children were, not surprisingly, completely terrorized. The bulldozers were also used to destroy olive trees and wells, which Rachel Corrie committed herself to helping protect from such attacks.
Activist Kate Raphael, who has spent significant periods in the occupied territories, then spoke about how Rachel Corrie is known throughout the Arab world and seen as an important symbol of international solidarity. Though the six inside were prepared to face arrest for carrying out civil disobedience, the authorities were apparently not in a mood to press charges; no one was arrested.
The crowd repeatedly chanted for Duane Doyle, CEO of Peterson Tractor, to meet with them, but there was no sign of Doyle or any other higher-up at the dealership. JVP activists distributed a flyer demanding that Doyle, as an owner of Caterpillar stock, support a shareholder resolution which calls on the corporation to investigate Israel's use of its equipment. The flyer also called on Doyle to tell the Caterpillar Board of Directors to meet with Rachel Corrie's parents.
Since the Center for Constitutional Rights recently filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Corrie in a Washington district court, it's unlikely such a meeting will happen without lawyers present. The lawuit is "for compensatory and punitive damages against Caterpillar, Inc. for violations of international and state law committed against Rachel Corrie, including war crimes; aiding and abetting her extra-judicial killing; complicity in cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment that resulted in her death; negligence; and wrongful death."
In a press release about the case, Jennie Green, Senior Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "International law clearly provides that corporations can be held accountable for violations of international human rights." CCR also pointed out that over the past four years, the Israeli military has used Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy more than 4,000 Palestinian homes, injuring, killing, or leaving homeless scores of individuals in the process.
Among the protestors were two groups of high school students, one with the East Bay-based Jewish Youth for Community Action. The other assemblage of teenagers were brought to the action by their economics teacher at Oakland's Oasis High School, Sheila Sathe. Sathe's students were especially vocal, and injected a hilarious, high-energy contrast to somewhat predictable renditions of "We Shall Not Be Moved" and other leftie-folkie chestnuts as they sat in the bulldozer on the compound's front lawn, jumping up and down on its seat and honking its horn along with some extremely noisy chants. I asked Ashley Bass if she was glad that she came to the action with her fellow students. She flashed a huge grin at me and said, "Yeah, we're just trying to get energized and help other people."
It's hard to improve on that sentiment, and one hopes as many U.S. activists as possible come out to do just that on April 13, the international day of action against Caterpillar, on the occasion of the company's stockholder meeting [http://www.catdestroyshomes.org/article.php?id=132].
Ben Terrall is a writer and activist who works with the Haiti Action Committee
(www.haitiaction.net). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org