How Rachel’s Memory Can Live On

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“This has to stop,” American peace activist Rachel Corrie wrote her mother on February 27, 2003 from Gaza. “I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. . .This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me.”

Less than three weeks later, Rachel was killed while trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian physician’s home. Witnesses said that that the bulldozer ran over her and then backed up. Israeli officials denied this. Intentional or not, few can disagree that 23-year-old Rachel, a student at the Evergreen State College in Washington State, epitomized the sort of dedication necessary to making a positive impact in our world. As a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), she strived to bring about change in the Palestinian Occupied Territories through non-violence.

And in a region that has suffered from decades of brutality and violence, Rachel’s commitment to non-violence was a breath of fresh air. Her determination to improving the lives of Palestinians is even more noteworthy given that she never had any familial ties to the land. No cultural ties. But she did have human ties and it was those human ties that brought out her desire to see justice.

There is no better way to pay tribute to Rachel than to re-energize our efforts on putting pressure on Caterpillar Incorporated to stop its sales of bulldozers and other earth-moving equipment to Israel.

A visitor to Caterpillar’s Web site is immediately struck by the corporation’s pride. “For more than 75 years, Caterpillar Inc. has been building the world’s infrastructure, and in partnership with Caterpillar dealers, is driving positive and sustainable change on every continent.”

Among Caterpillar’s accomplishments has been the preservation of rainforests. Apparently, however, its concern for saving rainforests does not translate into concern for the hundreds of thousands of olive trees Israeli troops and settlers using Caterpillar equipment have uprooted during the current Intifada. This is in addition to the thousands of Palestinians made homeless during home demolitions in the Israeli-Occupied Territories.

Despite U.S. State Department criticism of such Israeli practices, not to mention compelling photographs and newspaper articles, Caterpillar spokesman Benjamin Cordani maintained back in 2001, “We do not and cannot base sales on a customer’s intended use for our product. Caterpillar is a global company that provides products and services to companies and governments throughout the world. We follow the U.S. government’s direction on international sales and have a process in place to ensure we follow all laws and guidelines.”

Interestingly, “Caterpillar accepts the responsibilities of global citizenship. Wherever we conduct business or invest our resources around the world, we know that our commitment to financial success must also take into account social priorities,” states its website.

Setting aside Caterpillar’s role in the Israeli destruction of an entire nation’s infrastructure –” however unwittingly, the reality is that money is taking precedence over social priorities. Money is the bottom line and any businessperson will affirm this.

Nonetheless, Cordani had continued, “Caterpillar checks the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and other governmental lists of individuals and organizations U.S. companies are forbidden to do business with overseas.”

Indeed, an office within the Treasury Department, OFAC enforces economic and trade sanctions against “targeted foreign countries, terrorism-sponsoring organizations and international narcotics traffickers based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals.”

According to one OFAC official, many of the sanctions are based on United Nations and other international directives, and involve close cooperation with U.S. allies.

(The OFAC list of restricted countries is not the only list to which American companies are subject. After consulting the OFAC list, American exporters must then refer to the Department of Commerce, which has its own restrictions.)

How does one try to get a particular country added to the OFAC list? Going through Congress is the first step–”although the president must sign off on every case.

While it is unlikely that Israel will be added to any future OFAC list, it doesn’t hurt to raise the issue with one’s local congressperson. That may at least call attention to Israel’s continuing practice of home demolitions. Middle East peace, after all, is in the national interest–”a fact of which Americans increasingly are aware as a result of Sept. 11 and the ensuing “war on terrorism.”

Consider sharing some of the following information with elected officials in Washington:

Home demolitions have been used as a form of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing for many years. Even the Oslo accords represented no reprieve for Israel’s destruction of Palestinians’ homes. In fact, the demolitions accelerated.

One of the pretexts has been that the demolished homes were built without permits. Of course, despite its sensitivity to the needs of growing Jewish families and illegal settlements, the Israeli government virtually never grants building permits–”which can cost as much as $20,000 and take five years to obtain–”to Palestinians, who as a result often must live in severely cramped spaces. In the Middle East’s “only democracy,” the law is the law . . . selectively.

Interestingly, many of the Palestinian homes that have been demolished or received demolition orders are situated near existing Jewish settlements or bypass roads. The resulting demolitions conveniently prevent territorial contiguity between Palestinian population centers.

While targeting Palestinian homes for destruction, Israel has authorized massive housing construction, tax incentives, roads and related infrastructure for illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Even as thousands of completed units stand empty, the Israel’s Housing Ministry has authorized more illegal Jewish-only settlements. The ministry admitted that almost a quarter of all units built by the government in the West Bank between 1989 and 1992 never had been occupied. And to illustrate the importance of Jewish-only settlements to Israeli administrations, neither former PM Ehud Barak nor current PM Ariel Sharon halted the building of settlements during the current uprising for freedom.

Then of course, Palestinian homes have been demolished as part of the Israeli policy of collective punishment. In fact, in the first four years of the 1988-93 Intifada, Israel destroyed 786 homes as reprisal against those who took part in the uprising.

Israeli policy mandates that the homes of the families of Palestinian suicide bombers be destroyed. Curiously, however, the family home of Yigal Amir, the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, remains intact.

According to Al Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization:

– Between 1967 and 1977, at least 1,000 homes were demolished punitively.

– During the first Intifada, 56% of those houses affected were demolished, either completely or partially, while 96% of houses affected during the second Intifada have been completely demolished.

– Since the beginning of the second Intifada, the policy of punitive house demolition has become widespread. It is estimated that more than 200 houses were destroyed in the West Bank.

– In 2003, at least 131 Palestinian homes in the West Bank have been totally demolished, 2 partially demolished, and 4 sealed. In Rafah in the Gaza Strip, 429 Palestinian homes have been partially demolished and 491 totally demolished during this same period.

In fact, Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly forbids collective punishment, stating that no resident of an occupied territory “may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.” Further, Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the destruction of personal property. It establishes that “[a]ny destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

One can, therefore, understand why Israel uses the excuse of “security” when it destroys homes. The problem with this is that the “wanted” individual has already been killed. And in every case, either the individual didn’t live in the home marked for demolition or the family members had no clue as to what the individual was planning to do.

One can only imagine the outrage of Americans if the U.S. military marked the home of domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh’s family for demolition after the Oklahoma City bombing. Imagine standing by and watching his family be punished to the crimes of their son. It would never fly here in our country.

Aside from legal and moral considerations, however, such tactics simply don’t work. As Secretary of State Colin Powell bluntly and articulately once told the Israeli government, “When you start knocking down buildings with bulldozers, don’t expect people not to respond to this kind of activity. When you start announcing more settlement activity, this does not create conditions that would cause the other side to be less responsive or less violent.”

It’s common sense, really. What doesn’t make sense is Caterpillar’s bragging that it helps build the world’s infrastructure while it sits idly by and watches its own equipment be used to break laws and destroy a people’s society. And I sincerely doubt the Caterpillar founders, Daniel Best and Benjamin Holt, who were experimenting with ways to improve the steam tractors for farming in the late 19th century, would appreciate seeing their vision tarnished in this way.

To send your concerns to Caterpillar, Incorporate, go to http://www.cat.com/about_cat/contact_us/contact_us.html

Also, mark you calendars! A rally and march to the Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar headquarters will take place on April 23, 2004 at noon. For more information, go to: http://www.catdestroyshomes.org/index.html

As Rachel reflected a month before she was killed, “This has to stop.”

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