NEW YORK: The killing of US peace activist Rachel Corrie on March 16, 2003, by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip triggered a frenzy of protest by the international peace movement.
Activists first focused their wrath on the Israeli and American governments; Israel for claiming the driver of the military bulldozer did not see Corrie standing in the path of a Gaza house scheduled for demolition, and America for its tacit acceptance of the outcome of the Israeli inquiry.
But now, perhaps in acknowledgement of the futility of their earlier efforts, a diverse coalition of activists is focusing on a much softer target: the US firm that sells Israel the bulldozers that continue to demolish Palestinian homes, and which killed Corrie.
"The bulldozer certainly is the symbol of the occupation," said Rachel's father Craig Corrie, at an April 4 rally in Chicago to start a campaign against the Caterpillar company. "Your tax dollars and mine surely purchased the D-9 bulldozer that killed Rachel."
The campaign against Caterpillar officially kicked off with an April 14 protest in Chicago outside the firm's board of director's meeting. A large protest is set for April 23, as part of an international day of action against the construction equipment maker, in front of the main Caterpillar plant in Peoria, Illinois.
"We hope that (CEO) James Owens has the courage to sit down and at least hear our side of the story," said Kevin Clark, an organizer with the Chicago branch of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). "They should know that we are not going away ... In our view, they're making weapons of mass destruction in terms of the way they're used in Palestine."
On April 4, nearly 400 people, including Cindy and Craig Corrie, crowded into the meeting room of a mosque in the southern Chicago suburb of Bridgeview to commemorate Rachel and plan the Caterpillar campaign.
The new push against Caterpillar has brought together a diverse array of activists - Arab and Muslim groups, international peace activists and anti-globalization forces - showing how the various issues have melded in US leftist politics.
"The issue of Palestine is firmly entrenched in the progressive agenda of Americans today," said speaker Dick Reily.
Jim Finnerty, president of the Chicago chapter of the International Lawyer's Guild, told the audience that the Palestinian cause has become an international symbol - even in places with only slim connections: "In Northern Ireland for years, people have been flying Palestinian Flags," he said. "They see that it is the same struggle against colonialism."
This confluence of political forces and agendas has also produced a hybrid list of demands. According to flyers distributed, the protestors are not just demanding that Caterpillar cease sales to Israel; they are also rallying on the side of the company's employees in current contract negotiations.
The April 4 mosque rally contained numerous heartfelt testimonials to Corrie, 23, a student from Oregon who had traveled to Gaza as part of the ISM. "Her name is engraved on all our hearts. Her life did not go in vain," Jamal Saeed, imam of the Bridgeview mosque, told the Corries. "You should be proud of your child."
Ghada Talhami, political science professor at Lake Forest College, said: "The courage of Rachel shows she grew up in a house of courage and ... idealism, and I think she typifies the best of America."
When the Corries spoke, the audience rose in an extended standing ovation.
"Rachel would have been embarrassed by all the attention," said Cindy Corrie. "She would have wanted us to focus instead on the hundreds and hundreds of Palestinians who have died - as well as the Israelis. I think they are all victims of the occupation."
But Mrs. Corrie also specifically stated several times that the example which her daughter set was one of non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation.
"This resistance ... needs to be a loving, nonabusive resistance," she said.
Meanwhile Caterpillar officials are keeping their distance - and seem unlikely to sit down with the protest leaders. Company spokesman Benjamin Cordani said that there are more than 2 million Caterpillar machines in operation around the world.
"We have neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment," he said. Issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are "best left to our governmental leaders who have the ability to impact action and advance the peace process," Cordani said.
But Colette Broderson, Rachel Corrie's aunt, found little comfort in these comments.
"I'm sure Caterpillar is eager to just accept the conclusions of the Israeli investigation and keep doing business," she said.
Clark characterized the Caterpillar campaign as the start of a long-term effort similar to the divestment campaign against businesses operating in South Africa under Apartheid. Although he doubts that this month's protests will do anything to change company policy, Clark is optimistic about the campaign's long-term prospects. He says the main reason for optimism is Caterpillar's sales to Israel are a tiny fraction of the company's global business, and far less than sales to Arab states.
"We picked a target that we believe is winnable," he said. "It's a lot easier to target caterpillar than the makers of Apache helicopters."
Copyright (c) 2004 The Daily Star