SAN LEANDRO, California — When Penny Rosenwasser arrived in Rafah nearly four years ago for her first visit to the Gaza Strip, she couldn't believe her eyes.
The peace activist said she saw two football fields full of rubble and debris, which just a day earlier had been the homes of many Palestinian families.
Rosenwasser, a board member of the Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, said nearly 300 homes had been destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces, which were operating Caterpillar bulldozers.
The only house that remained standing, she said, was riddled with bullet holes.
"Rafah is a poor place, but it is very strong," she said. "Where there is struggle, there is resistance."
Rosenwasser was among more than 50 demonstrators who protested Wednesday morning outside the locked gates of Peterson Tractor Co. onMarina Boulevard. The company is a regional Caterpillar dealership.
"Ho, ho, hey, hey, how many homes will go today?" the crowd chanted outside the dealership as dozens of cars and trucks honked their horns in support of the cause.
The Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the country's largest and oldest Jewish grass-roots peace groups, was hoping to get its message across to the company's top executives: Stop selling D-9 bulldozers to the Israeli army.
"While the entire world is pushing Israelis and Palestinians toward a negotiated peace, Caterpillar — an American company — continues to profit from the destruction of private property and violation of human rights," said Liat Weingart, JVP co-director. "When it comes to peace in the Middle East, Caterpillar is out of step with the rest of the world."
Weingart said the people of San Leandro need to know what is going on, especially since Peterson Tractor is a large institution in the community.
More than 12 San Leandro police officers stood guard in the driveway of Peterson Tractor, where company representatives did not come out of the building to comment Wednesday.
The organization held its protest on the second anniversary of American peace activist Rachel Corrie's death. Corrie, 23, was killed in March 2003 by a Caterpillar bulldozer as she was protecting the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah.
Corrie was a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led group that uses nonviolent methods to challenge Israeli occupation. Among their methods is standing in front of bulldozers Israel sends into the area to destroy buildings near the Gaza-Egypt border.
The demonstration also came one day after Corrie's family filed a federal lawsuit against Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc.
The suit alleges Caterpillar violated international and state law by providing specially designed bulldozers to Israeli Defense Forces that it knew would be used to demolish homes and endanger civilians.
"This is bigger than Rachel Corrie," said JVP member Sydney Levy. "We're here to tell the dealership to take responsibility for supplying Israel with the equipment. It's not something they don't know about. They're aware of what they're doing."
No arrests were made in the protest.
Tasha Bartholomew covers the city of San Leandro and Ashland. Call her at (510) 293-2471 or send
e-mail to email@example.com.