Caterpillar sued for Palestinian incident

The family of a 23-year-old activist killed while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes by Israeli Defense Forces filed a lawsuit against Caterpillar, which produced the dozer that ran over her.

The federal lawsuit, filed March 15 in Seattle, Wash., alleges Caterpillar violated international and state law by providing IDF specially designed dozers it knew would be used to demolish homes and endanger civilians. The suit also hinges on the actions of an IDF D9 dozer operator who ran over Rachel Corrie, a student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., as she stood in front of a home in a Rafah refugee camp, near the Egyptian border.

Caterpillar spokesman Ben Cordani declined to comment specifically about the lawsuit, but said “this is not a new issue” for the company.

Cordani said Caterpillar denies the primary accusation of the lawsuit – that Caterpillar should have known about the end use of its machines.

“With 2 million plus machines and engines in every part of the world, we don’t have the right or the means to police how that equipment is used,” he said.

The dozers IDF uses could have been sold through several means, including the U.S. foreign military sales program, of which Caterpillar is a participant. Because the machines are modified for a specific use, the company no longer accounts for them.

Cordani said all Caterpillar sales are done in accordance with laws and policies, and that how equipment was used in this instance is something best left to elected officials.

“Our elected officials make foreign policy, not Caterpillar,” he said.

Senior attorney Jennifer Green with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the organization that filed the lawsuit, said in U.S. courts a company could be sued if it provides assistance against human rights.

Green, who is handling the case, said the suit is similar to those against companies like Royal Dutch Petroleum and Chevron – both accused of violating human rights in Nigeria – that are still pending in U.S. courts. The first such case against a U.S. company was filed in 1996.

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The Corrie family asserts they contacted Caterpillar several times during the two years since their daughter’s death. They allege IDF has used the company’s dozers to destroy Palestinian homes since 1999.

The Corries have also filed a tort claim in Israel against the State of Israel, the Israeli Defense Ministry and the IDF for their role in Rachel Corrie’s death, which Israel ruled accidental.

The lawsuit against Caterpillar asks for compensatory damages of at least $75,000, punitive damages and other relief. The lawsuit against the Israeli government asks for $324,000 in compensatory damages and possibly other damages that would “have a deterring and education effect.”

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].