Anniversary of activists death spurs area group to protest bulldozer dealer

On the first anniversary of the death of a young American pro-Palestinian activist, some 50 members of A Jewish Voice for Peace descended on San Leandro to meet with executives from a company that sells the type of bulldozer that killed her.

Peterson Tractor Co. was targeted by JVP because it deals almost exclusively in Caterpillar equipment. Caterpillar bulldozers are used by the Israel Defense Forces to demolish Palestinian homes. It was also a Caterpillar bulldozer that crushed to death Rachel Corrie, a member of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, as she tried to prevent a Palestinian home from being demolished in the Gaza Strip last year.

Israel claimed that it was an accident, and that the driver didn’t see her.

The activists were joined Tuesday, March 16, by Brian Avery, another ISM activist from New Mexico, who was shot in the face by the IDF. Avery was to appear at several commemorations marking Corrie’s death around the Bay Area this week. One such vigil took place March 16 outside the Consulate General of Israel in downtown San Francisco, drawing about 40 people.

Activists marked the one-year anniversary of Corrie’s death in similar demonstrations around the United States, in the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The JVP activists had written a letter a month ago to the CEO of Peterson Tractor Co. to request a meeting; they received no response.

Dressed in business attire and carrying no signs, so as not to look like protesters, the activists showed up unannounced in the lobby of the Peterson offices, shortly after 11 a.m. March 16.

The group was told that the CEO was away, but that the second in command would meet with them.

Standing in the lobby, activist Penny Rosenwasser of Oakland led the group in the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, for Corrie.

While the Peterson executive who met with them refused to give his name, he did listen to JVP’s five demands, as outlined by JVP activist and attorney Glen Hauer of Berkeley. The executive, however, rejected all their demands.

The demands were: to ask the company to urge Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark (D-Fremont) to support a House of Representatives resolution urging an independent investigation into Corrie’s death; to support JVP’s resolution among Caterpillar shareholders that it not sell its equipment to Israel; that it urge the CEO of Caterpillar to meet with the Corrie family; to communicate to the Caterpillar company that this dealership does not want its equipment being sold to violate human rights; and to issue a statement of general concern.

JVP has bought stock in Caterpillar, a publicly owned company, specifically so it can sponsor a resolution that the company stop selling its equipment to Israel.

The resolution states: “Since 1967, the Israeli government has used Caterpillar equipment, including specifically modified D9 and D10 bulldozers to destroy over 7,000 buildings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving 50,000 men, women and children homeless.”

When a Peterson staffer said, “You’re disrupting our business,” Rosenwasser responded: “Caterpillar machines have disrupted the lives of Palestinians for over 30 years now.”

Liat Weingart, co-director of JVP, said the company was not entirely hostile to what JVP had to say and at least were open to hearing the group’s demands.

But, still, she said, “People here are selling Caterpillar bulldozers without any kind of idea of what they’re being used for on the other side of the planet; for demolishing houses and now building the wall [Israel’s security fence]. … There’s no question about what’s going on and who’s culpable.”

The Peterson Tractor Co. did not return phone calls from j. by press time.

JVP also launched an e-mail campaign asking its supporters to send letters of concern to Caterpillar.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."