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Princeton Committee on Palestine hosts Caterpillar referendum teach-in

<h5>Angel Kuo/ The Daily Princetonian&nbsp;</h5>
Angel Kuo/ The Daily Princetonian 

Content warning: The following article contains descriptions of violence. 

“Rachel stood and took a position showing that she was not going to move. She knelt at first to show that she would stay there, and the bulldozer kept coming,” Cindy Corrie said. “The bulldozer proceeded over her, stopped, and even though [her colleagues] were yelling, backed up again over Rachel.”

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Rachel Corrie was killed by a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer used by the Israeli military while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip in 2003. Craig and Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s parents, joined Rutgers University professor David Letwin at a teach-in on April 6 in the Whig Senate Chamber.

The teach-in was co-hosted by the Princeton Committee on Palestine (PCP) and Students for Prison Education, Abolition and Reform (SPEAR) and focused on the Caterpillar machinery referendum that students will begin voting on this week. 

The referendum calls upon the University administration to “halt usage of all Caterpillar machinery in all ongoing campus construction projects” due to the use of Caterpillar machinery by the Israeli government in the destruction of Palestinian homes. 

During the teach-in, Cindy described the origins of her daughter’s activism in Palestine by reading from her daughter’s personal writings. 

“I think it’s important that human rights and resistance to oppression be included in the way we define ourselves as a community,” Cindy read from her daughter’s journal. 

Rachel worked with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza before her death in 2003, when ISM representatives were called to intervene in home demolitions on the Gaza Strip.  

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Following Rachel’s death, the Corries filed lawsuits against both the Israeli government and Caterpillar. In their lawsuit against the Israeli government, the country’s Supreme Court determined that the Israeli government was not responsible for Rachel’s death. 

At the panel, Craig described his initial hesitancy to file a lawsuit against Caterpillar. 

“It seemed to me that Caterpillar sold the machine and somebody had misused it,” he said. “What I found out is that for actually a decade or more … Caterpillar was on notice about how those bulldozers were used.”

One student asked the Corries about the magnitude of home demolitions in expanding Israeli occupation, to which Cindy responded that, according to the Human Rights Watch, in Rafah, “a tenth of the population lost their homes from 2000 to 2004; 16,000 people were made homeless.”

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“In my mind, Rachel was killed. There is no getting justice for Rachel,” Craig said. “If you want justice for Rachel, try to find justice for the Palestinian people.”

Letwin, who co-founded Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, a group advocating for the “inalienable right [for Palestinians] to return to their homeland,” discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the event.

“The Israeli regime — with the economic and military backing of the United States — has refused to allow Palestinians to exercise this inalienable right for 74 years,” Letwin said. 

During the teach-in, Letwin also described the reception to advocacy for Palestine.

“The final stage in this Zionist response has been where we are today, which is effectively to accuse anybody who raises these kinds of questions as being antisemitic,” he said. “This is a lie. When you think about it, the identities of the people involved are really incidental. We’re really dealing with colonizer and colonized.”

Letwin pointed out that reports on the conflict between Israel and Palestine released by organizations like the Human Rights Watch are “only affirming what Palestinian voices have been saying since day one.”

On an information sheet distributed at the meeting, the event organizers addressed members of the Princeton community by saying “as consumers of Caterpillar, we have the power and the obligation to act to defend Palestinian lives and refuse complicity with war crimes.”

At the end of the event, as attendees trickled out of the Senate Chamber, some students began a “Free Palestine” chant.

A full video of the teach-in can be found here.

Voting on this referendum will run from April 11 through April 13. 

Isabel Yip is an Assistant News Editor who typically covers University affairs and student life. She can be reached at isabelyip@princeton.edu or on Instagram at @isaayip.

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