Bulldozers as Weapons
Caterpillar sells its bulldozers to the Israeli army through the United States Foreign Military Sales Program, separately from its regular supply chain of products to the general Israeli market. Once in Israel, D9 bulldozers are armored, and modified to include machine gun mounts and grenade launchers. According to the testimony of Josh Reubner of the US Campaign to Stop the Israeli Occupation at the Russel Tribunal on Palestine in 2010, all U.S. arms transfers and military aid are subject to laws intended to prevent these weapons from being used to commit human rights abuses. For example, the Arms Export Control Act states that foreign countries receiving weapons as military aid must use them only for internal security and legitimate self-defense.
However, this is not the case with Caterpillar bulldozers, which have been systematically used in internationally-condemned war crimes, such as in the 2002 attack on Jenin, the razing of Rafah neighbourhoods in 2004, the 2006 invasion of Lebanon and the 2008 attacks on Gaza. The last two attacks insidiously included unmanned D9 bulldozers (Dawn Thunder) and unmanned versions of the company's smaller tools (Front Runner) specially developed for urban warfare.
During the April 2002 attack on the Jenin Refugee Camp, Caterpillar D9s have leveled hundreds of civilian houses, “to make pathways into the camp.” As a 2002 Human Rights Watch report reveals, some of the houses were crushed onto their inhabitants and approximately 4,000 people were rendered homeless.
In May 2004, Caterpillar bulldozers were also used in the Israeli army’s assault on the refugee camp of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. A Human Rights Watch report refers to these mass demolitions, stating “During regular nighttime raids and with little or no warning, Israeli forces used armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers to raze blocks of homes at the edge of the camp, incrementally expanding a "buffer zone" that is currently up to three hundred meters wide. The pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat, in violation of international law. In most of the cases Human Rights Watch found the destruction was carried out in the absence of military necessity.” The report goes on to point out instance of homes, and infrastructure such as roads, being destroyed without just cause.
Caterpillar D9 bulldozers preceded the Israeli troops in the invasions to South Lebanon (2006) and to Gaza (2008), as highlighted in the Goldstone Report, to systematically destroy civilian buildings, homes, land, crops, orchards, and infrastructure. According to eyewitness reports, the destruction continues well after the Israeli soldiers take control of the area.
According to Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property carried out unlawfully and wantonly” are war crimes.
In March 2003, a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer operated by the Israeli army killed the peace activist Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old U.S. citizen, while she was nonviolently protesting the demolishment of a Palestinian home in Rafah.
Aside from the systematic house demolitions described above as a method of urban warfare, the Israeli occupation uses house demolitions against specific Palestinian homes and towns throughout the country as punitive measures and as a way to curb Palestinian urban expansion. A report published by B’tselem in 2004 and cited by the UN, investigated the home demolitions of the families of people suspected of terrorist activity. The report reveals that 47% of the homes demolished by the military were never used by the suspects themselves. In addition, demolitions often occur with little or no prior warning, and the report finds that in only 3% of the cases were the occupants given notification. These demolitions are in fact a form of collective punishment, as well as a violation of the right to due process.