Peoria Journal Star

September 26, 2003

Group calls Cat a 'war profiteer'
Protesters claim company helps raze Palestinian homes

By DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A grass-roots Jewish peace group launched a new offensive against Caterpillar Inc. on Thursday, claiming the heavy-equipment manufacturer is hurting the prospects for Middle East peace by continuing to sell bulldozers to the Israeli military.

The bulldozers are being used to destroy Palestinian homes in violation of the U.S.-backed "Road Map to Peace" for the region and international law, the group charged.

"The Caterpillar corporation is now in the business of war profiteering, profiting from violating the human rights of the Palestinian people, profiting from the escalating cycle of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians, profiting from making peace impossible to reach," said Liat Weingart, co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace, in a conference call with reporters.

That group and others protested Thursday outside Caterpillar's international headquarters in Peoria and in San Francisco in what Weingart said will be a long-term campaign to persuade Caterpillar to stop selling bulldozers for use by the Israeli army.

"We're going to make it public that the Caterpillar corporation doesn't stand by its principles and we're going to make it clear that the business of destruction doesn't pay," Weingart said.

Caterpillar spokesman Benjamin Cordani said the company has no ability to affect the peace process.

"Those who have the best ability to impact the process are our governmental leaders, not a private company," Cordani said. "We fully operate in a transparent and legal manner."

The protest at Caterpillar headquarters was peaceful. Ten members of the Bradley University Peace Network were at Main and Adams streets Thursday evening, holding signs critical of Caterpillar and handing out literature to people walking past. It lasted 30 minutes.

In addition to those protests, the groups are urging people through their Web sites to write Caterpillar, demanding a halt to the bulldozer sales. They also plan to introduce a resolution of a similar nature at the firm's next stockholder meeting.

Cordani referred to a statement on the company's Web site that reads: "Caterpillar shares the world's concern over unrest in the Middle East and we certainly have compassion for all those affected by the political strife. However, more than two million Caterpillar machines and engines are at work in virtually every country and region of the world each day. We have neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment."

The "Road Map" does prohibit Israel from confiscating or demolishing Palestinian homes, said Nathan Brown, an adjunct scholar with Washington-based Middle East Institute. However, "It's not as if this is the first violation by either side. For that reason, the call seems to a little bit strange and late," Brown said of the group's protest.

The protest of bulldozer sales is "probably more part of a political strategy to bring the issue home in the United States" rather than an attempt to actually stop sales, he said. "If Caterpillar stopped selling bulldozers to Israel, my guess is that it would not fundamentally change the situation at all."