When is a bulldozer a weapon? Salon's readers respond to Farhad Manjoo's "Caterpillar Faces an Intifada."

By Salon Staff

Published May 18, 2004 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read the story.]

If the IDF needs bulldozers, they will get bulldozers. If Caterpillar stops selling them directly, the IDF can and will buy them through a third party. This is just another case of people protesting something because it makes them feel good to be part of a protest, not because the protest will actually effect change. If they really want to make a difference, then they should move to Israel, become citizens, and help vote Sharon out of office. They should pursue their agenda on the battlefield, not call it in from the sidelines, where they have little or no idea of the realities faced by the Palestinians and the Israelis every day.

-- Richard Douek

The Israeli consul for the Midwest, David Roet, thinks he has made for a clear distinction between Israel and South Africa in one word, "terrorism." There are two problems with this blithe dismissal. One is that "terrorism" was part of the South African struggle, both in actuality when there were bombs on white beaches, and rhetorically when Dick Cheney cast his infamous vote against supporting Nelson Mandela's ANC on the grounds they were terrorists.

The other problem is the suggestion that there would be no problem if only there was no terrorism. The use of bomb attacks against civilians was introduced by Zionist settlers, a few of whom later became prime ministers of Israel. There was a conflict long before suicide bombers and there will be a conflict if they were to utterly stop. Witness the Israeli response to recent attacks on soldiers, if anything more brutal than when civilians were killed.

-- Jesse Bacon

So Farhad Manjoo is "uncomfortable" with Caterpillar selling its products to Israel.

Does he also support the cessation of selling printing equipment to the Palestinians? After all, they are used to print everything from the notorious and racist "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to all manner of incitement, including school textbooks that encourage intolerance and advocate all manner of vile hatred directed toward Israelis and Jews.

Perhaps if there were no more printing presses in Gaza and the West Bank, the vicious mindset of the radical Palestinian factions wouldn't be so readily transmitted, and thus far less need for Israel to respond to terror with bulldozers.

If that were the case, I submit the Caterpillar "issue" might not be an issue at all.

-- Alex Harris

I pride myself on being a lifelong liberal Democrat and agree that Israel's policies toward the Palestinians are heavy-handed at minimum, but this idea is so far out in the lunatic left field it makes me want to puke.

Should manufacturers stop selling to the U.S. government because of abuses in Iraq? Those companies who sold dog leashes to the U.S. intelligence officers should of course be forced to never again sell dog leashes to the U.S. government or anyone who works for it, right?

Please. You should be ashamed for publishing such total crap.

-- Eric Carlson

If you pick up a knife and run out screaming that you're going to use the knife to kill someone, and your family doesn't try to stop you, then yes, your family would share some of the guilt if you follow through with your threat. But is the manufacturer of the knife also responsible? The proponents of the resolution against Caterpillar seem to be implying just such a correlation. By manufacturing a product that is used for a specified purpose (in Caterpillar's case, to clear away debris), but may be used for violent purposes, does the manufacturer share in the blame if violent people use the product to harm others, even if the manufacturer has no way to control the actions or motives of these people?

While I am sympathetic to those who have dealt with the senselessness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the resolutions against Caterpillar, while well-intentioned, seem misguided. Indignation, blame and demands for accountability should be directed against the perpetrators, not the makers of the implements they use. However, Caterpillar's statement of its determination to better the world through the use of its products does seem somewhat disingenuous, and it paints the company into a corner. If Caterpillar truly believes in its beneficent mission, then perhaps reassessing its role, if there is indeed any, within the complex machinations of the Israeli military wouldn't be a bad idea.

-- Matt Hutchinson

Name-calling usually isn't appropriate, but in certain circumstances it's a quick, accurate way to get your point across. Rachel Corrie was an idiot. She helped anti-American Palestinians and was likely looking for a way to get injured by that Caterpillar in order to advance her cause. Is Caterpillar responsible? No. Frankly, the company should be proud they are contributing to a Middle East democracy and fighting totalitarianism. Leftists need to find something else to bark about, like the beheading of an American by the "misunderstood" Islamofascists. Then again, maybe they're too busy drinking Zima and smoking dope.

-- Cecil Franklin

One thing that stood out in this story was the Israeli consul who tried to distance Israeli policies from the apartheid government in South Africa. He claimed that the main difference between the two was terrorism; in fact the ANC was considered a terrorist organization and even bombed shopping centers, that is, they targeted and killed civilians specifically.

The ANC has been the government of South Africa for 10 years now; one wonders what and who will be ruling Israel when this conflict is said and done.

Man proposes, God disposes.

-- Anthony Johnson

At the end of his article on shareholder activism against Caterpillar, Farhad Manjoo asks the following rhetorical question: "Isn't it just as understandable to look at pictures of Israeli victims of suicide bombs and conclude, as the consul David Roet does, that Caterpillar bulldozers are aiding the peace process by helping in the construction of the barrier wall that he believes will stop terrorism?"

The answer is a resounding no. Even the four former heads of the Israeli Shin Bet, not exactly terrorist sympathizers, call Sharon's policies and particularly the barrier wall a "disaster" (their words) for Israel. How can including tens of thousands of hostile Palestinians within the wall, disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands more, and building it totally on Palestinian land (by definition of the whole world except Israel and the Bush government) help stop terrorism?

On the other hand, destroying the homes of the innocent families of suicide bombers hasn't stopped terrorism, and so has no pragmatic value. On the contrary, it enrages innocent people and encourages acts of revenge. It is also a type of collective punishment and is a clear violation of the Geneva conventions.

The elephant in the room, around which Manjoo tiptoes, is that making these statements opens one up to charges of "anti-Semitism" or "imbalance" by the powerful Israel lobby and their Christian Coalition allies.

In this case there is no moral equivalence. Israel's use of Caterpillar equipment to perpetuate war crimes is inexcusable.

-- Aron Trauring

Thank you for Farhad Manjoo's article on Caterpillar's role in the Middle East. As a peace-oriented American Jew, I need to correct one misconception that is furthered by the otherwise informative article: The separation barrier that the Israelis are building is not between Israel and the West Bank. It cuts deep into the West Bank, separating Palestinians from resources such as water, from the fields they need to tend, and from each other. It is a de facto annexation of yet more Palestinian territory, another of Sharon's "facts on the ground" that make peace ever more difficult to attain.

-- Henri Picciotto

Thank you for your insightful article. As an American and a Jew, I believe that Caterpillar can claim neither ignorance nor lack of responsibility for how their equipment is being used by the Israeli military. Caterpillar does not need to become a police force that investigates how its equipment is being used. But when the company is directly presented with abundant evidence that its equipment is being used in direct violation of international law, Caterpillar and its executives can no longer wash their hands of the matter.

-- Seth Schneider

Caterpillar has another reason to sell to the Israeli army: The IDF is a demanding customer with a good reputation among the world's armies. Being able to sell to Israel is a badge of honor. Caterpillar's products gain credibility as battle-tested by the best. Incidentally, several Arab armies prefer to purchase the same equipment Israel has.

-- Ed Moss

I believe the situation with Caterpillar is another example of scapegoating someone with only ancillary responsibility, simply because the organizations or agencies with primary responsibility are too difficult to affect. The simple fact is that when someone buys a product, they purchase the responsibility that goes with it, too. If they fail to live up to that responsibility, it is their fault, not the seller's.

This is not the first time that the Caterpillar corporation has been similarly attacked for someone else's use of its equipment, and I'm surprised that you did not mention that first famous incident. Both the book and film versions of "The Grapes of Wrath" prominently featured Caterpillar equipment bulldozing the homes of failing farmers during the Great Depression. Caterpillar is one of America's great corporations. They survived that first symbolic demonization and I am sure they will survive this one, too.

-- Bryan Myrkle

Thank you so much for publishing this information. As an American Jew, it breaks my heart that bulldozers from my country are being used as weapons against the Palestinian people. My people have struggled so hard for a home; Palestinian people deserve safe homes as well. I hope Caterpillar will do some soul-searching, and ultimately do the right thing.

-- Penny Rosenwasser

Thank you for publishing the article "Caterpillar Faces an Intifada." I am an American Jew who is very concerned by the situation in the Middle East and the callousness of the Caterpillar company. The U.N. estimates that Israel has destroyed more than 80 buildings in the Rafah camp during the past few days alone, leaving about 1,100 Palestinians homeless. Israel's weapon of choice is the Caterpillar bulldozer.

These are matters of public record. Caterpillar cannot claim it does not know what destruction its products are causing.

Caterpillar is not just selling bulldozers; it is selling weapons.

-- Sydney Levy

Salon Staff

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