FAQ

On this page, we shall take a contrarian stance and play devil’s advocate. More specific questions are addressed in the separate pages on Divestment and Caterpillar.

Ready? Let’s get started!

 

Why should Caterpillar be held liable for what someone else does with their equipment?

Nobody is holding Caterpillar liable for what it is not responsible for. We are holding Caterpillar responsible for its own actions—no more, no less.

Here is what Caterpillar is responsible for:

  • Knowing for years that it is selling its products to a client that is using the equipment to commit human rights abuses.
  • Helping the client commit human rights abuses by manufacturing its equipment to specifications that maximize the potential for human rights abuses.
  • Ignoring repeated calls by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN representatives, and other human rights groups to cease its sales to a known human rights abuser.
  • Consciously opposing annual shareholder resolutions that would make the company review its complicity in human rights abuses.

After all this, Caterpillar cannot claim innocence and ignorance. The Caterpillar Corporation knowingly and consciously chooses to provide direct material support for the commission of human rights abuses and violations of international law in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This is not only what we say, but what Amnesty International says, what Human Rights Watch says, and what UN representatives say.

But really, this should not be difficult to comprehend.

If I sold you a baseball bat knowing full well that you were going to use it to assault someone, I would be liable. If the whole neighborhood told me to stop selling you baseball bats because you always use the baseball bats to assault innocent people, I would be liable. If this went on for over 9 years—in which time I received 50,000 letters and extensive human rights reports calling on me to stop selling you baseball bats used to assault people, I would be quite liable. If I helped you drive nails through the baseball bat in order to maximize the pain that you inflicted on innocent people, I would be quite liable.

I cannot claim that I didn't know. I cannot claim that I was just selling the bat for baseball, or that what you do with the bat is not my business.

Nobody is making Caterpilllar sell its bulldozers to known human rights abusers. Caterpillar knowingly and willingly chooses to do so. Caterpillar knowingly and willingly chooses to provide material for the commission of crimes.

If a corporation cannot be held accountable for its own deliberate actions, then what in the world can a corporation ever be held accountable for?

 

Why don’t you try [alternative tactic 1, 2, 3] to achieve these goals?

Been there, done that. At Evergreen, students have worked on this campaign for at least seven years. Yes, we’ve tried talking to administration officials. Yes, we’ve tried presenting our case before the Evergreen Foundation Board of Governors.

Outside of Evergreen, we’ve lobbied political leaders, we’ve participated in marches and rallies. We’ve spoken at schools. We’ve had teach-ins We’ve networked with other social justice groups. We’ve attended conferences. We’ve participated in direct action. We’ve done it all, and we haven’t given up on these tactics, but they're not enough.

Divestment is an international campaign, initiated at the request of 200 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005. Other college campuses are doing it. Other institutions are doing it. It’s totally nonviolent, and everyone can engage in it.

The Caterpillar campaign is also an ongoing international campaign, lasting several years. This struggle to hold Caterpillar accountable has resulted in the Presbyterian Churches USA passing a divestment resolution against Caterpillar in 2006. In 2008, the Church of Enlgand divested from Caterpillar. In early 2009, Hampshire College decided to divest from Caterpillar, finding that the corporation violated the college’s socially responsible investment policy.

We don’t expect things to change overnight. We’re just doing the best we can. Won’t you join us?

 

If you really care about social justice, why aren’t you working on [insert random good cause here]?

Oh, I dunno. Why aren’t you?

Seriously, we do work on many other causes for social justice. We just can’t fit everything we care about into one or two resolutions. However, here’s the great thing: If the divestment resolution passes, it will open the door for many other social justice groups to hold corporations accountable. If the Evergreen Foundation institutes a socially responsible investment policy, it not only benefits people working for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel—it also benefits people working on environmental justice, labor rights, and other forms of human rights.

So if you care really about [insert random good cause here], the resolutions will benefit your cause, too.

What we’ve noticed, though, is that the kind of people who ask this question aren’t working for any cause at all. They just like to criticize others who do. Phooey on them.

Here’s a related question….

 

Israel/Palestine isn’t the worst conflict in the world. Why don’t you tackle a worse human rights abuser?

Again, people who ask these kinds of questions aren’t concerned about other issues. They just don’t want us to work on this particular issue. Strange, isn’t it?

The premise is that if someone is working on an important cause but not working on a supposedly more important cause, then that person is a hypocrite. The only way to not be a hypocrite, then, is (1) to tackle only the absolute worstest situation in the world, or (2) to tackle all the nasty issues in the world, or (3) to do nothing at all. Who made up that dumb rule?

Here’s a free tip: No matter what depressing issue you work on, you can always find a more tragic situation in the world. One with more deaths per capita, more deaths in general, more misery, whatever. Does that mean we should do nothing until we identify the worst thing in the world? Good luck, buddy!

Apartheid in South Africa was bad. I mean, really bad. But was it the worst thing going on in the world? No! Does that mean people should not have fought to end apartheid? No!

Here’s another generous tip: You can’t fix everything in the world. Leave some for the next generation.

Okay, back to our predicament. Hopefully we agree that South African apartheid was worth fighting against. What about the occupation of Palestine?

Well, Desmond Tutu has said that the occupation reminded him “so much of what used to happen to us blacks in apartheid South Africa.” Some of the actions of the IDF against the Palestinians were “so uncannily reminiscent…of the vicious apartheid regime.”

Other prominent South Africans who suffered under apartheid have visited Palestine. This is what they said:

  • Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, ANC parliamentarian: “What I see here is worse than what we experienced.”
  • Fatima Hassan, South African human rights lawyer: “I think [this] is worse than what we experienced during apartheid.”
  • Mondli Makhanya, editor-in-chief of the South African Sunday Times: “The level of the apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid [in South Africa]….What we went through was terrible, terrible, terrible—and yet there is no comparison. Here it is more terrible.”

If apartheid was worth fighting against, and if the occupation of Palestine is considered comparable to or worse than apartheid, then isn’t the occupation of Palestine worth fighting against?

And isn’t the fact that the United States gives $3 billion annually to perpetuate the illegal military occupation our responsibility? Since the United States is the strongest ally and protector of the occupying nation, Israel, doesn’t that give us some leverage to do something about the issue?

Now that we’ve established that the occupation is worth fighting against, here’s a final tip: Human rights does not operate on a bell curve—it’s not relative. Every human being is worthy of basic human rights. No person is worth more than another.

To determine whether a cause is worth fighting for, ask yourself: Is the situation bad? Is it bad enough to do something about? If so, and as long as you listen to and follow the cries of the oppressed, then that’s your mandate.

Since 2006, Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip. That blockade puts 1.5 million people under siege, unable to come and go, unable to access everyday goods. 1.5 million people locked up in the world's largest open-air prison, for the last four years. Is that a crisis? Is that worth protesting? We think so.

 

Isn’t this resolution one-sided?

These resolutions are targeted against corporations that are profiting from an illegal military occupation. On one side is the issue of human rights, supported by people of conscience, such as Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Arundhati Roy. On the other side is the issue of war profiteering, backed by greedy corporations.

In that case, we’re proud to side with human rights!

 

Isn’t this “divisive?”

Anything that challenges the status quo is considered divisive. Likewise, due to real progress, what is commonplace today was considered divisive yesterday.

The Civil Rights Movement was divisive. Martin Luther King was criticized by supposedly well-meaning liberals as “divisive.” White liberals accused King of stirring up trouble where there was none before—of agitating, of stirring up racial divisions and impeding progress. What they couldn’t understand was that the status quo was inherently divisive. They couldn’t see that, because their whiteness meant that they didn’t have to suffer under the status quo. But the discomfort of upsetting the status quo was necessary to achieve true progress.

Anytime you take a stand on any issue, you are divisive—whether the issue is immigration, abortion, marriage equality, miscegenation, suffrage, slavery, or war.

The staus quo is already divisive to the people who suffer under it. Change is divisive because it upsets the status quo. Don’t mistake the status quo with safety or neutrality.

“Divisiveness” is a rhetorical weapon. When an opposing party doesn’t have a good argument against you, they will simply dismiss you and your cause as divisive or controversial.

In other words, the two resolutions on the ballot are divisive if you oppose them, and not divisive if you support them. It doesn’t matter. You should judge the resolutions by their own merits, not by whether someone chooses to apply the empty, rhetorical label of “divisiveness.”

There, doesn’t that feel good?

 

“If you believe that what was stolen from people should be returned to them, then the first land that should be returned is that which the Europeans stole from the First Peoples on the North American continent. When your family has returned its land to the nearest Native American tribe, then send me a copy of the quit claim deed, and we can talk about Israel and Palestine.”

Yes, someone really wrote that to us, and we didn't even say anything about stolen land.

Nothwithstanding the fact that this comment has nothing to do with the two resolutions up for vote, we find it offensive that someone would exploit the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous peoples of the Americas in order to justify the ethnic cleansing of another people. We hope you feel the same.