A Call to Corporate Responsibility

Pax Christi USA Press Statement, August 7, 2002

Pax Christi USA, a national Catholic peace movement of over 14,000 members including over 140 bishops and over 500 religious communities continues to be devastated by the endless cycle of violent retribution and retaliation that has taken the lives of so many innocent people on both sides of the current crisis in the Middle East.

Pax Christi rejects the path of violence as a means of achieving peace understanding that genuine peace will only be possible when the root causes of the conflict are addressed through the application of international law. We echo the words of Pope John Paul II, who urged, "It is time to return to the principles of international legality: the banning of the acquisition of territory by force, the right of peoples to self-determination, respect for the resolutions of the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions. For there to be a true and lasting peace in the region we believe that negotiations should ultimately lead to a sovereign, viable Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as the capital of two states, accessible to followers of the three monotheistic religions."

While Pax Christi USA condemns the violence of suicide bombers who hold both the Israeli and Palestinian people hostage to this unending cycle of violent retribution, we believe that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is the fundamental dynamic that fuels the conflict.

One of the more odious aspects of life under Israel occupation is the policy of home destruction. Since the occupation began in 1967 Israel has destroyed 7,000 homes leaving 30,000 Palestinians homeless. Currently 7,300 Palestinian family homes in East Jerusalem have been designated as "illegal" by the Israeli authorities and are in danger of being destroyed. The vast majority of homes destroyed are conducted for administrative reasons and cannot be justified under international law. In addition, the Israeli military will often destroy the homes of families of suspected terrorist as a form of collective punishment.

The Israeli policy of home destruction is met out to all Palestinians with no regard to class or religion. We are especially concerned with the small and struggling Catholic Palestinian Church which also suffers under the occupation. In his Lenten letter of 2001, Bishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the President of Pax Christi International pleaded with the Israeli authorities, "Destroy our churches but spare the homes of our faithful. If you must impose, at any price, collective punishment and if their needs to be a ransom in order to procure the tranquility of innocent children and families, we offer our churches. Destroy them; we will find other places in which to pray and we will continue to pray for ourselves and you."

The Israeli military, which carries out the policy of home destruction, is very proud of its relationship with the U.S. based Caterpillar Corporation. On their webpage they extol the virtues of the Caterpillar D-9 Bulldozer which is used to destroy Palestinian homes. In the military operation which destroyed nearly 100 homes in the Jenin refugee camp this Spring, Time Magazine pointed out, "But the Israeli’s most effective weapon was unconventional: the huge armoured D-9 bulldozer."

For months now, our members and others have joined the call, first issued by the Israeli peace groups Gush Shalom and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, to write to Mr. Glen Barton, Chairman and CEO of Caterpillar Corporation, to end its business relationship with the Israel military as long as the policy of home destruction continues and the Palestinian people suffer under occupation.

Mr. Barton and the Caterpillar Corporation can no longer claim that they are ignorant of what is being done with the bulldozers they sell to the Israeli military. They claim they are not violating any U.S. laws, but as the U.S. Catholic Bishops stated in their pastoral reflection, Everyday Christianity, owners of businesses must be aware that, "Ethical responsibility is not just avoiding evil, but doing right, especially for the weak and the vulnerable." Corporate responsibility is not limited to obedience to the law.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, "We should never forget that everything Adolph Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’." And the Nuremberg Principles, which arose out of the trials of German war criminals, makes clear that those who knowingly provide material support for acts in violation international codes of conduct cannot hide behind the cover of legality.

We therefore call on Mr. Barton and the Board of Directors of Caterpillar Corporation to live by its own Code of Conduct which commits Caterpillar to accept the responsibility of global citizenship and conduct business in a way that takes into account social, economic, political and environmental priorities and contributes to the quality of life of communities where their products are used. It is time to stop business as usual as long as the occupation continues.