The Caterpillar D9 is the main IDF tool to demolish homes, structures, and agricultural areas in Gaza and the West Bank. The bulldozer is produced by Caterpillar Inc. and sold through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program. Armored plating is provided by state-owned Israel Military Industries (IMI).
The Caterpillar D9 is a powerful track-type tractor manufactured primarily for construction or agricultural use. The front blade is more than 1.8 meters (six feet) high and 4.58 meters (fifteen feet) wide, and is designed to plow material, penetrate structures and carry loads. The IDF uses it to knock down walls, transport debris and plow for mines. On the bulldozer’s back is the “ripper,” used to loosen ground, remove stones and excavate ditches. The IDF also uses it to shred roads. Hydraulically controlled, the single shank blade can penetrate 1.7 meters (five feet, five inches) into the ground.(1)
Nicknamed Duby, or “Teddy Bear”, the Caterpillar D9 stands four meters (thirteen feet, one inch tall) and is more than 7.9 meters (twenty-six feet) long, including ripper and front blade. With armored plates, it weighs roughly sixty-four tons. On IDF-modified D9s, bulletproof glass surrounds the operator and heavy armor protects the external hydraulics.
Caterpillar Inc., based in Peoria, Illinois, USA, claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, and industrial gas turbines. In 2003, the corporation (NYSE: CAT) posted sales and revenues of U.S. $22.76 billion and a profit of U.S. $1.1 billion. Approximately half of all sales were to customers outside the United States.
The corporation and its chairman, Glen Barton, also claim to value social responsibility. According to Caterpillar’s code of conduct:
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, economic, political, and environmental priorities. We believe that our success should also contribute to the quality of life and the prosperity of communities where we work and live.(2)
Many corporations, governments, and international institutions recognize that corporations have an obligation to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law. Most recently, the United Nations has begun to develop standards for corporations in the form of the U.N. Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights have. That document states that companies should not “engage in or benefit from” violations of international human rights or humanitarian law and that companies “shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights.”(3) Despite the guidelines set out in the U.N. Norms and the company’s own commitment to socially-responsible practices, Caterpillar has not taken meaningful steps to ensure that its products do not contribute to violations. In the case of the company’s bulldozers, there is strong and credible evidence that they have been used for unnecessary and excessive house and property demolitions that amount to violations of international humanitarian law.
Caterpillar does not appear to have implemented these principles with regard to bulldozer sales to Israel. Instead, the company claims it is not responsible for how its equipment is used. In response to complaints from the organization Jewish Voice for Peace about the bulldozers’ use in illegal house demolitions, CEO James W. Owens wrote that Caterpillar has “neither the legal right nor the ability to monitor and police individual use of that equipment.”(4) The claim was repeated verbatim in a Caterpillar statement on the Middle East. “We believe any comments on political conflict in the region are best left to our governmental leaders who have the ability to impact action and advance the peace process,” the statement said.(5)
The letter from Owens further explained that Caterpillar’s sales to Israel were conducted through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program (FMS), whereby the U.S. Department of Defense purchases goods from U.S. manufacturers and resells them to foreign governments.
In late May 2004, days after the major demolitions, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, wrote to Owens about Caterpillar bulldozers being used to “destroy agricultural farms, greenhouses, ancient olive groves and agricultural fields planted with crops, as well as numerous Palestinian homes and sometimes human lives.” Delivery of the bulldozers to the Israeli government with knowledge that they were being used for illegal demolitions, Ziegler wrote, “might involve complicity or acceptance on the part of your company to actual and potential violations of human rights, including the right to food.”(6)
Human Rights Watch believes that Caterpillar’s products have been used to further violations of international humanitarian law and that the company should take steps to ensure that this does not occur in the future. Such steps could include: agreeing to abide by standards such as the U.N. Norms and refusing to participate in the FMS program with Israel or to reject sales to governments or other parties where there is a risk that the company’s products will be used in the perpetuation of human rights violations. Otherwise, Caterpillar will remain complicit in the international humanitarian law violations that occurred because of excessive and unwarranted demolitions by the Israeli government while using the company’s bulldozers.
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