Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:31 pm (KSA) 16:31 pm (GMT)

US rejects 'killer bulldozer' case against Israel

Peace activist Corrie after she was crushed trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer (File)
Peace activist Corrie after she was crushed trying to stop an Israeli bulldozer (File)

Saying its role was not to criticize U.S. policy towards Israel, an American federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit on Monday charging that Caterpillar bulldozers aided killing and torture in the Palestinian territories.

Relatives of 16 Palestinians and one American killed or injured by Israeli demolitions sued the heavy construction machine manufacturer. They alleged that by selling bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes, Caterpillar was responsible for war crimes, cruel and inhumane punishment and other violations.

The U.S. government paid for the bulldozers, which were transferred to the Israeli army. The army sometimes uses engineering vehicles in operations aimed at curbing Palestinian militant activity.

A lower court dismissed the suit and a San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals backed that decision, saying that to render a judgment on the matter would interfere with American foreign policy.

"It is not the role of the courts to indirectly indict Israel for violating international law with military equipment the United States government provided and continues to provide," Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote for a three-judge panel.

"The executive branch has made a policy determination that Israel should purchase Caterpillar bulldozers," the decision said. "A court could not find in favor of the plaintiffs without implicitly questioning, and even condemning, United States foreign policy toward Israel."

The 9th Circuit has in some previous cases shied away from lawsuits in which American policy was in question. Because the United States executive branch paid for the Caterpillar bulldozers sent to Israel, the sale was an extension of U.S. national security decisions, the judge wrote.

Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar has sold bulldozers to Israel since the Jewish state took control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the court said.

Rachel Corrie's death

Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer

One of the most publicized deaths by a Caterpillar bulldozer used by Israel was that of an American member of the International Solidatiary Movement (ISM), Rachel Corrie.

Corrie was involved in a protest against the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah, a controversial practice carried out by the Israeli army.

On March 16, 2003, Corrie was killed attempting to obstruct an Israeli Caterpillar D9 armored bulldozer, from destroying the home of a local Palestinian Pharmacist.

Corrie was with a group of seven ISM activists (four Americans and three British) who claim the driver of the bulldozer deliberately ran her over twice.

The official Israeli Government report denied the charge and said that Corrie was killed by falling debris pushed by the bulldozer whose driver did not see her, the report also said that the bulldozer was not engaged in a demolition when Corrie impeded on its path.

In 2003 Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) condemned the killing of Rachel Corrie and called for an independent investigation of her death and called for the suspension of U.S. transfers of military equipment to Israel, including bulldozers, "which have been used to commit human rights abuses.”

"As Rachel Corrie was an American citizen, the U.S. government has a particular responsibility to ensure a thorough, proper and impartial investigation," said Christine Bustany, AIUSA's Advocacy Director for the Middle East.

"U.S.-made bulldozers have been 'weaponized' and their transfer to Israel must be suspended," she also said.

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