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VII. Role of the International Community

The international community’s response to the May incursions was strong in words and weak on action.  Still, near universal condemnation of the destruction from governments and organizations probably helped limit the Israeli abuse.

World leaders and major organizations strongly criticized Israel for the destruction of homes, property, and infrastructure in May (See Appendix) as well as the unlawful killing of civilians.  The most forceful international criticism was Security Council Resolution 1544, passed on May 19, after the killings at the demonstration in Tel al-Sultan (see Box 4).  With a vote of 14-0, the council called on Israel to respect international humanitarian law and, in particular, “its obligation not to undertake demolition of homes contrary to that law.”  The resolution also expressed “grave concern regarding the humanitarian situation of Palestinians made homeless in the Rafah area.”

The lone abstention came from the United States, but even this was an unusually forceful U.S. response to Israeli violations.  In the past, the U.S. has repeatedly blocked Security Council resolutions critical of its ally in the Middle East.  Prior to the Security Council vote, Secretary of State Colin Powell had said the U.S. opposed “the kind of actions that they [the IDF] are taking in Rafah.”279

Despite these strong positions, the U.S. government took no concrete steps to encourage Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law.  On May 19 Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Powell to explain the Rafah offensive.  He told the press after the meetings that he did not hear “the slightest criticism” from his interlocutors.280

Most important, U.S. funding continued to flow to the country’s leading recipient of aid.  The 2004 U.S. Foreign Appropriations Act allocated U.S. $2.15 billion to Israel for foreign military financing and U.S.$ 480 million for economic assistance, and none of this was placed in doubt.  In 2003, the U.S. government also granted Israel U.S.$ 9 billion in loan guarantees to be dispersed over three years, part of which is intended to help defray debts from earlier guarantees.  Some of the equipment Israel purchases with U.S. aid, like the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, is used to commit the abuses described in this report.

The European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner, with €22 billion in commerce between them in 2002.  E.U.-Israel trade takes place under the framework of the E.U.-Israel Association Agreement; Article 2 of the Agreement stipulates that relations “shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.”  Despite support in the European Parliament to suspend the Agreement due to Israel’s human rights record, there has been little concrete action in this direction.281

Paying for the Mess

The Gaza Strip is heavily reliant on foreign aid, nearly U.S. $1 billion per year.282  In Rafah, many of the essential programs and infrastructure are either heavily supported or completely funded by outside sources, like the European Union, U.S. government, Arab Development Bank, World Bank, and United Nations.  These governments and organizations fund schools, water works, health care facilities, and offices of the PNA.

They also fund reconstruction for much of the destruction caused by the IDF, some of it of facilities these governments and organizations had funded in the first place.  In June 2003, the World Bank estimated the IDF had damaged or destroyed U.S.$ 150 million worth of donor-funded infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank since September 2000,283 including the Gaza Airport, PNA police installations, and UNRWA schools.284  In January 2004, Israel paid compensation for damage to the contents of a WFP warehouse, the only known case of compensation for damage to donor-funded property.285

On May 31, UNRWA issued an appeal for U.S.$ 15.84 million for Rafah “to provide emergency cash, food and housing assistance to the hundreds of families who have lost their homes, had a breadwinner killed or wounded, or who are in need of ongoing medical care.”286  According to UNRWA, re-housing a family costs U.S.$ 20,000, and as of May 31 the agency had already spent U.S.$ 12,106,474 to provide accommodations for the displaced.287

As of August 29, UNRWA had built, was in the process of building, or had funding to build 430 dwelling units in Rafah, while projects for a further 1,464 units remained unfunded.  The United Arab Emirates Red Crescent Society and the Saudi Committee for the Relief of the Palestinians have also pledged funds that could cover up to nine hundred units of this backlog, though details have yet to be finalized.288  The PNA Ministry of Housing, which is primarily responsible for Rafah residents who are not refugees from what is now Israel, has built fifty-nine new housing units and is working on twenty more; thirty of the completed units, however, remain empty due to their proximity to the IDF base in Rafiah Yam settlement.289  In the meantime, the number of new houses required continues to grow.

On August 11, the EC allocated €1.35 million specifically for victims of house demolitions in Rafah.  The money is for temporary accommodations, cash assistance, shelter repairs, and key infrastructure, including the rehabilitation of water supply networks, sewage systems, and two schools, the EC said.  Commenting on the decision, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Poul Nielson reminded Israel that “these funds do not absolve the occupying power of its responsibilities to uphold international humanitarian law.”  He added: “As reiterated by the European Union and the United Nations, house demolitions are disproportionate acts that contravene international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, and show a reckless disregard for the lives of civilians.”290  The next day, the Islamic Development Bank said it would pay U.S.$ 25 million for reconstruction.291

The U.S. government has authorized the use of up to U.S.$ 20 million from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to allow UNRWA to assist Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza.  The State Department said on July 29 that the contribution was in response to UNRWA’s U.S. $193 million emergency appeal for 2004.  USAID had fast-tracked U.S. $100,000 to a local contractor to repair Rafah’s water and sewage pipes and to replace the transformer at the Jumset Jabil pumping station.292

While this funding is desperately needed, the UNRWA appeal contributed to a debate within the aid community about funding the reconstruction for which Israel is obliged to pay.

“We are certainly prepared to continue our humanitarian assistance and to support the rebuilding of the infrastructure of those areas from which the Israel defense forces withdraw,” said Chris Patten, European Commissioner for External Relations.  “But I have to say that this time I think we should seek certain guarantees from the Israeli defense forces that they will not destroy again what we build.”293  According to press reports, the U.S. government had sought such assurances in 2003 after some USAID-funded water wells in Rafah were destroyed.294

Box 5:
The Caterpillar D9 Armored Bulldozer

The Caterpillar D9 is the main IDF tool to demolish homes, structures, and agricultural areas in Gaza and the West Bank.  The bulldozer is produced by Caterpillar Inc. and sold through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program.  Armored plating is provided by state-owned Israel Military Industries (IMI).

The Caterpillar D9 is a powerful track-type tractor manufactured primarily for construction or agricultural use.  The front blade is more than 1.8 meters (six feet) high and 4.58 meters (fifteen feet) wide, and is designed to plow material, penetrate structures and carry loads.  The IDF uses it to knock down walls, transport debris and plow for mines.  On the bulldozer’s back is the “ripper,” used to loosen ground, remove stones and excavate ditches.  The IDF also uses it to shred roads.  Hydraulically controlled, the single shank blade can penetrate 1.7 meters (five feet, five inches) into the ground.295

Nicknamed Duby, or “Teddy Bear”, the Caterpillar D9 stands four meters (thirteen feet, one inch tall) and is more than 7.9 meters (twenty-six feet) long, including ripper and front blade.  With armored plates, it weighs roughly sixty-four tons.  On IDF-modified D9s, bulletproof glass surrounds the operator and heavy armor protects the external hydraulics.

Caterpillar Inc., based in Peoria, Illinois, USA, claims to be the world’s largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, and industrial gas turbines.  In 2003, the corporation (NYSE: CAT) posted sales and revenues of U.S. $22.76 billion and a profit of U.S. $1.1 billion.  Approximately half of all sales were to customers outside the United States.

The corporation and its chairman, Glen Barton, also claim to value social responsibility.  According to Caterpillar’s code of conduct:

Wherever we conduct business or invest our resources around the world, we know that our commitment to financial success must also take into account social, economic, political, and environmental priorities. We believe that our success should also contribute to the quality of life and the prosperity of communities where we work and live.296

Many corporations, governments, and international institutions recognize that corporations have an obligation to ensure respect for human rights and humanitarian law.  Most recently, the United Nations has begun to develop standards for corporations in the form of the U.N. Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights have.  That document states that companies should not “engage in or benefit from” violations of international human rights or humanitarian law and that companies “shall further seek to ensure that the goods and services they provide will not be used to abuse human rights.”297  Despite the guidelines set out in the U.N. Norms and the company’s own commitment to socially-responsible practices, Caterpillar has not taken meaningful steps to ensure that its products do not contribute to violations.  In the case of the company’s bulldozers, there is strong and credible evidence that they have been used for unnecessary and excessive house and property demolitions that amount to violations of international humanitarian law. 

Caterpillar does not appear to have implemented these principles with regard to bulldozer sales to Israel.  Instead, the company claims it is not responsible for how its equipment is used.  In response to complaints from the organization Jewish Voice for Peace about the bulldozers’ use in illegal house demolitions, CEO James W. Owens wrote that Caterpillar has “neither the legal right nor the ability to monitor and police individual use of that equipment.”298  The claim was repeated verbatim in a Caterpillar statement on the Middle East.  “We believe any comments on political conflict in the region are best left to our governmental leaders who have the ability to impact action and advance the peace process,” the statement said.299

The letter from Owens further explained that Caterpillar’s sales to Israel were conducted through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program (FMS), whereby the U.S. Department of Defense purchases goods from U.S. manufacturers and resells them to foreign governments.

In late May 2004, days after the major demolitions, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, wrote to Owens about Caterpillar bulldozers being used to “destroy agricultural farms, greenhouses, ancient olive groves and agricultural fields planted with crops, as well as numerous Palestinian homes and sometimes human lives.”  Delivery of the bulldozers to the Israeli government with knowledge that they were being used for illegal demolitions, Ziegler wrote, “might involve complicity or acceptance on the part of your company to actual and potential violations of human rights, including the right to food.”300

Human Rights Watch believes that Caterpillar’s products have been used to further violations of international humanitarian law and that the company should take steps to ensure that this does not occur in the future.  Such steps could include: agreeing to abide by standards such as the U.N. Norms and refusing to participate in the FMS program with Israel or to reject sales to governments or other parties where there is a risk that the company’s products will be used in the perpetuation of human rights violations.  Otherwise, Caterpillar will remain complicit in the international humanitarian law violations that occurred because of excessive and unwarranted demolitions by the Israeli government while using the company’s bulldozers.

[279] Robin Wright, “Powell Denounces Israel’s Destruction of Palestinian Homes,” Washington Post, May 17, 2004.

[280] “USA Not Voiced ‘Slightest Criticism’ Over Israeli Rafah Operation – Minister,” BBC Monitoring, Excerpt from report by Israel Radio, May 19, 2004.

[281] On April 10, 2002, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling upon the European Council to institute an arms embargo on Israel/OPT and to suspend the E.U.-Israel Association Agreement.

[282] Overall disbursements fell from U.S.$ 1.026 billion in 2002 to U.S. $898 million in 2003 – a decline of twelve percent.  However, if the Arab League donors are discounted, contributions from others (principally the U.S. and the E.U.) increased by about thirty percent.  The same is true for types of assistance other than budget support; these increased by over twenty percent (World Bank, Disengagement, the Palestinian Economy, and the Settlements).

[283] World Bank, World Bank Report on Impact of Intifada, April-June 2003.

[284] House of Commons, International Development Committee, Development Assistance and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, January 15, 2004.

[285] Ibid.

[286] “UNRWA Launches $15.8 Million Crisis Appeal for Rafah,” UNRWA Press Release, May 31, 2004.

[287] Ibid.

[288] Email communication from Christer Nordahl, Deputy Chief of Operations (Gaza), UNRWA to Human Rights Watch, August 29, 2004.

[289] Rafah Humanitarian Needs Assessment; Email communication from Christer Nordahl, Deputy Chief of Operations (Gaza), UNRWA to Human Rights Watch, September 5, 2004.

[290] European Commission Press Release, “Commission Provides a Further €1.35 Million in Aid for Victims of House Demolitions in Rafah (Gaza Strip)” August 11, 2004.

[291] “Islamic Bank to Pay 25 Million Dollars to Reconstruct Rafah,” Xinhua, August 12, 2004.

[292] UNRWA and OCHA, Rafah Humanitarian Needs Assessment.

[293] Speech of Chris Patten, European Parliament Plenary Session, April 21, 2004.

[294] Justin Huggler, “Israel Destroys US-built Wells,” Independent, November 5, 2003

[295] Specifications of the Caterpillar D9R bulldozer available at, (accessed October 4, 2004).

[296] Caterpillar Inc., Code of Worldwide Business Conduct, October 1, 2000.

[297] See the United Nations Norms on the Responsibilities of Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with Regard to Human Rights, E/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/12/Rev.2 (2003).

[298] Letter from CAT CEO Jim Owns to Liat Weingart, Jewish Voice for Peace, August 22, 2003, as provided by the Stop Caterpillar Campaign.  See, (accessed August 25, 2004).

[299] Caterpillar Inc. Statement on the Middle East, see, (accessed August 26, 2004).

[300] Letter from UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Jean Ziegler to CAT CEO James Owens, May 28, 2004.  Available at, (accessed August 25, 2004).

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