Unable to sleep, I decided to write. For the past week, my email box has been flooded with desperate pleas for help from the people in Rafah, a Palestinian village on the border with Egypt. Since last week, the Israeli Army has relentlessly hammered the people of Rafah, destroying over 100 hundred homes, leaving at least 1000 civilians homeless. The image of these people, standing by helplessly as they watch their walls and roofs cave in under the pressure of the armored, D-9 and D-10 American made Caterpillar bulldozers–supplied to the Israeli army by the US government–has destroyed my sleep.
This image would make anyone of conscience sleepless, but it makes me sleepless because I cannot stop thinking about the horror my cousin Rachel Corrie would have felt witnessing this attack. Rachel worked in Rafah. Undoubtedly, she knew some of the people killed, wounded and/or made homeless by this latest attack. Rachel died in Rafah. She herself fell victim to the crushing blade of the bulldozer, the driver so intent on destroying a home that he had to destroy human life to do so.
When I pointedly mention that Caterpillar manufactured the bulldozer used to kill Rachel, I am sometimes asked whether it is reasonable to suggest that Caterpillar bears some responsibility for Rachel’s death, and for the deaths and homelessness of Palestinians. I concede that, legally, it is difficult to make this case. Morally, however, it is not, and it is to the consciences of the people who manage, work for, and invest in Caterpillar that I appeal.
If Rachel’s death, underreported as it was, did not make clear the inappropriate use of Caterpillar’s products, surely the current attack on Rafah–so egregious that even members of the Bush Administration have stepped out of its typically unquestioning support of Israeli policy to express concern–should have driven this point home. The Israeli Army takes Caterpillar bulldozers, armors them, and uses them to inflict collective punishment on Palestinian civilians, in violation of international law. More to the point, it does so in violation of Caterpillar’s own published policy of social responsibility, which states that its “commitment to financial success must also take into account social, economic, political and environmental priorities,” a policy guided by “high ethical standards” that seek to guarantee its “reputation for integrity.”
Is Caterpillar legally responsible for the way Israel perverts its bulldozers from tools of construction into weapons of destruction? Maybe not. Does it have a moral responsibility, as outlined in its own system of values, to investigate how its products are used and to preserve its “reputation for integrity” by holding its clients accountable to the same standard it holds for itself? Yes. Caterpillar should take seriously the request put forth in its stockholders’ meeting last month to look into Israel’s usage of its products, and, when it discovers incontrovertibly what seems obvious from the current reports that its products are in fact weapons and not tools, it should cease its sales until Israel complies with international law and the Caterpillar social responsibility policy. It should do this, not because it is good business practice–although retrieving the good name of Caterpillar from its association with war crimes is surely good business practice–but because it is the right thing to do.
Caterpillar has the opportunity to put teeth to its own commitment to social responsibility. It has a chance to demonstrate integrity, courage and compassion. We should support it in doing so, thereby demonstrating our own integrity, courage and compassion. And, we should waste no time–the people of Rafah are waiting.
Elizabeth Corrie has a PhD in religion and is the cousin of Rachel Corrie. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org