For the past few years Palestinian sympathisers and Israel haters have been waging a campaign against US construction equipment maker Caterpillar, on the grounds that it builds the D9 earthmovers used by the Israeli Defence Forces.
Campaigners say the IDF uses the bulldozers to illegally demolish Palestinian homes. The IDF says it uses them to demolish buildings used by terrorists as firing positions, and to dismantle booby-traps and fill in weapons-smuggling tunnels.
A D9 famously ran over and killed the flag-burning US activist Rachel Corrie in Gaza in 2003, spawning an entire canon of sub-standard poetry and drama. The pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement claimed she was 'murdered' while trying to protect Palestinian homes, producing a series of contradictory and apparently faked photos to support their claims. (HT for that last link Israel Matzav.)
The IDF says its troops were clearing weapons-smuggling infrastructure, and that there was no way the driver of the D9 could have seen Corrie. Corrie's family and others have tried to sue Caterpillar but failed, and she has become a hero of the Palestinian 'resistance' movement, and its official PR arm.
Whatever the truth of that particular incident, it's fair to say that, in the eyes of the anti-Israel lobby, Caterpillar's name is Mudd – or maybe that should be Earth. In 2004 Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said:
Caterpillar betrays its stated values when it sells bulldozers to Israel knowing that they are being used to illegally destroy Palestinian homes. Until Israel stops these practices, Caterpillar’s continued sales will make the company complicit in human rights abuses.
So it comes as something of a surprise to see Palestinians clearing up the damage caused by last week's Israeli strikes on Gaza with… a Caterpillar:
Apologies for the picture quality – it's a screen grab of a video, which is itself pretty ropey (or maybe it's my monitor…) on the BBC's website. But if you click to enlarge it you can clearly see 'CAT' on the engine cowling, and 'CATERPILLAR' along the top of the windscreen.
The BBC video is here (if that doesn't work the page is here – click the 'Watch' button below the photo). The Caterpillar appears briefly at 50 seconds, but there's no commentary. There's another version, with commentary, here (the page is here). It's edited differently, and the Caterpillar appears at 46 seconds. The branding is clearly visible in both clips.
It's what's known as a 'backhoe loader', rather than the notorious, almost larger-than-life D9, but a Caterpillar it most certainly is. This must be what they call the 'circle of earthmoving': Caterpillars knock the buildings down, Caterpillars come along and clear up the mess, and so it continues…
You've got to hand it to Caterpillar’s Mid-East sales rep. Talk about playing both sides – the guy has to be in line for 'salesman of the year' and a weekend in Vegas.
There are several websites, including Stop Caterpillar, devoted to attacking Caterpillar, and calling for boycotts of its products (I for one will certainly have pause for thought next time I'm out shopping for a 150,000lb earthmover). You can see some endearingly pathetic photos of a demo in England here.
The United Methodist Church in the US is running a disinvestment campaign against Caterpillar. The General Synod of the Church of England, under the leadership of the hapless Rowan Williams, voted to do the same in 2006, but was snubbed by its investments advisory group.
Among leftist opponents of Israel, Caterpillar has become a by-word for the perceived injustices visited on the Palestinian people. Maybe someone ought to tell the Palestinians.
Related: Business as usual at the BBC
Thanks to all who linked. In Berlin for a few days so not much time for blogging. I was at the Holocaust memorial shortly after hearing of the attack on the seminary in Jerusalem. Maybe I'll have some thoughts when I get back.