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Content Warning: The following article contains mentions of violence and death.
Last Sunday I stood in front of the Undergraduate Student Government Senate and asked them to approve the language of a referendum I am proposing for the spring USG election. The referendum is very simple: I am calling on the University to immediately halt usage of all Caterpillar construction machinery in ongoing and future campus construction projects.
You might recognize Caterpillar by their obnoxiously loud machines strewn across campus, their trademark yellow CAT logo, or by the above picture of President Eisgruber and other administrators jauntily breaking ground on the new Lake Campus development project with a massive Caterpillar machine sitting right behind them.
But there is more to Caterpillar than meets the eye. Caterpillar Inc., an American company whose headquarters are only half an hour away from my hometown in Illinois, is the largest construction-equipment manufacturing company in the world. Their annual sales in 2021 topped nearly $25 billion and their machinery is regularly sold around the globe. Caterpillar machinery has been used frequently in Historic Palestine and Israel. In fact, Caterpillar has made a handsome profit from their sales of D9 bulldozers to the Israeli government. As recently as 2001, court documents revealed that Caterpillar sold 50 of its D9 bulldozers to the state of Israel for the not-so-insignificant sum of $32.7 million.
How are these Caterpillar bulldozers used by Israel? Well, let’s take a look. In 2004, during the peak of the Second Intifada, Human Rights Watch reported that Caterpillar D9 bulldozers had been used in the demolition of over 250 Palestinian homes in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. These homes represented but a few of the approximately 18,000 Palestinian homes that have been demolished by the State of Israel since 1967.
Worse yet, just the previous year, in 2003, Caterpillar machinery was used in the murder of a 23-year-old American activist named Rachel Corrie.
Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestine activist from Olympia, Washington, travelled to Historic Palestine that year as a senior in college in order to peacefully protest the mass demolition of Palestinian homes. Corrie, along with eight other American and British volunteers, participated in non-violent protests with the intent of stopping Israeli bulldozers (built by, you guessed it, Caterpillar) from demolishing Palestinian homes in the Rafah refugee camp. Dressed in a fluorescent orange jacket with reflecting tape and carrying a bright white megaphone, Rachel stood in front of an Israeli D9 bulldozer and attempted to stop it from demolishing the home of the Nasrallah family (who were still inside at the time of the demolition).
Yet as the bulldozer advanced towards Rachel, it did not slow down. Even though Rachel scrambled to get out of the way, she was caught by the forklift of the Caterpillar bulldozer and was quickly dragged underneath. After Rachel had completely disappeared, the bulldozer stopped, reversed, and proceeded to roll over Rachel’s body once more. She did not survive.
After this unthinkably violent attack, Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig, sued Caterpillar for their machinery’s role in the murder of their daughter, as well as the murder and injury of four other Palestinian families caused by Caterpillar machines.
Without acknowledging any culpability, issuing any apology, or offering any restitution, Caterpillar moved to dismiss the lawsuit and refused to provide any form of compensation to the Corrie family or any other family that had joined the lawsuit. For the last 20 years, Cindy and Craig Corrie have fought for justice for the murder of their daughter, but have received nothing but silence from both the Israeli government and Caterpillar Inc.
It is for these reasons, among many others, that I hope the undergraduate students at Princeton will call on the University to stop using Caterpillar machinery in their numerous campus construction projects. This is not a company that should be allowed to build our new Art Museum, nor our new Lake Campus Development Project, nor our new Engineering Quadrangle. It is not a company that should have their machinery strewn across our campus for students, visitors, alumni, and staff to see each and every day. Caterpillar has shown time and time again that they are perfectly comfortable remaining complicit in heinous and violent acts committed with their machinery. Princeton must send a message that companies like these have no place in our campus community. And never will.
I hope you will agree by supporting my referendum.
Eric Periman is a junior in the School of Public and International Affairs. He is the president of Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.