WASHINGTON -- A major U.S. human rights group has called on Caterpillar Inc., the Illinois-based heavy-equipment giant, to immediately suspend sales of its D9 bulldozer to the Israeli army on the grounds that they are being used to violate international humanitarian law in the occupied territories.
The appeal by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) coincides with the announcement Monday by a U.S. Jewish peace group that it has filed a shareholder resolution urging Caterpillar to review whether the sale of the D-9 bulldzoer violates its own corporate code of conduct.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in San Francisco said it was the same resolution that it introduced along with the Catholic Sisters of Loretto and the Mercy Investment Group last year, the first time a resolution on Israeli human rights violations had ever been introduced. At last years shareholders meeting in April, the resolution received four percent of the shareholder vote.
With HRWs implicit endorsement, however, the resolution, which is also backed by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), could garner greater support at the next years shareholder meeting.
Since we worked with the Sisters to file our resolution last year, Caterpillar has come under a huge amount of pressure for selling bulldozers to Israel that are used to demolish homes, said JVP campaign director Liat Weingart. Groups as varied as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the Presbyterians and Pax Christi have all criticized Caterpillar for its sales of bulldozers to Israel. Groups within the Mennonite and Anglican churches are lobbying for them to take a state as well.
HRWs appeal comes one month after it released a blistering report on Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the southern Gaza strip. The report, Razing Rafah, found that claims by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) that such operations are dictated by military necessity were false and that the true intent appeared to be to expand the buffer zone between Gaza and Egypt to facilitate long-term Israeli control over the area.
The report, one of the hardest-hitting against Israel ever released by HRW, came in the wake of a 17-day IDF operation into the Jabalya refugee camp in central Gaza that left at least 110 Palestinians dead, about half of whom are believed to have been civilians. It was the biggest and most lethal IDF operation in Gaza in the last four years.
Some 70 Palestinians houses were totally destroyed and 200 others partially destroyed, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). The report noted that IDF operations in Rafah over the past four years had rendered some 16,000 people or ten percent of its population homeless since 2000.
Mondays appeal by HRW followed an exchange with Caterpillars CEO, James Owens, that began three weeks ago when HRW, in a letter to him and to the companys board of directors, called for suspending all sales of D9 bulldozers, which HRW described as the IDFs primary weapon to raze Palestinian homes, destroy agriculture and shred roads in violation of the laws of war to Israel.
Caterpillar betrays its stated values when it sells bulldozers to Israel knowing that they are being used to illegally destroy Palestinian homes, said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRWs Middle East director. Until Israel stops these practices, Caterpillars continued sales will make the company complicit in human rights abuses.
Owens responded to HRW in a November 12 letter by asserting that his company did not have the practical ability or legal right to determine how our products are used after they are sold.
But HRW called this a head-in-the-sand approach that ignores developing international standards as defined in the UN Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises which calls on companies to not engage in or benefit from violations of international human rights and to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights.
HRW further charged that Owens letter also ignored the companys own Code of Worldwide Business Conduct which requires the company to take into account social, economic, political and environmental priorities in its business operations. The Code also says the company accepts the responsibilities of global citizenship.
HRW noted that the D9 is made to military specifications as sells it to Israel under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program. Once exported to Israel, the bulldozers are armored by the state-owned Israel Military Industries Ltd.
Weighing roughly 64 tons, the armored D9 stands more than 13 feet tall and 26 feet long. A 23-year-old American activist, Rachel Corrie, was run over and killed last year by an armored D9 as she was trying to block it from destroying a Rafah home, and at least three Palestinians have been killed by the bulldozer and falling debris in the last two years because they were unable to flee their homes in time.
HRW noted that, in addition to displacing thousands of Gaza residents, the IDFs use of the D9 has destroyed more than half of Rafahs roads and damaged more than 50 miles of water of water and sewage pipes with a blade on the bulldozers rear known as the ripper.
We found no legal justification for the senseless destruction of infrastructure essential to the health of the civilian population, Whitson said, who noted that the IDF has claimed that bulldozing homes is necessary to uncover and destroy smugglers tunnels running from Egypt into Gaza. HRW maintains that much less destructive and more effective means, such as seismic sensors, electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar, could be used instead.
Last summer, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a resolution that calls for withdrawing investments from companies that profit from Israels occupation. The action prompted protests from a number of U.S. Jewish organizations that met with Church officials over a series of weeks that ended last month without agreement.
Speaking of the JVPs proposed resolution Monday, Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, the primary PCUSA researcher for corporate responsibility said, We supported this resolution last year, and there is not reason why we couldnt do so this year.
The U.S. Episcopal Church also moved over the past several months toward adopting a similar policy, but, after meetings with Jewish organizations, announced that it would try to engage targeted companies over their sales to Israel, rather than to endorse an across-the-board divestment policy.
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