Corrie et al. v. Caterpillar

Corrie v. Caterpillar was a federal lawsuit filed against Illinois-based Caterpillar, Inc. on behalf of the parents of Rachel Corrie and four Palestinian families whose relatives were killed or injured when Caterpillar bulldozers demolished their homes. Corrie, a 23-year old American human rights defender, was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer in 2003 as she attempted to defend a Palestinian family’s home from being demolished by the Israeli military while the family was inside. The case is representative of CCR’s commitment to challenge human rights violations against civilians in Palestine, whether they are committed by the Israeli government or corporations complicit in those violations.

Since 1967, Caterpillar, Inc. has supplied the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with D9 bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, leaving thousands of families homeless. The Caterpillar D9 bulldozer is more than 13 feet tall and 26 feet wide, weighs more than 60 tons with its armored plating, and can raze houses in a matter of minutes. The bulldozers are provided to the Israeli government at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. Caterpillar, Inc. has known about the human rights abuses committed with its bulldozers since at least 1989, when human rights groups began publicly condemning the violations. Since 2001, human rights groups have sent over 50,000 letters to Caterpillar, Inc. executives decrying the use of its bulldozers to carry out human rights abuses.

The practice of home demolitions, forced expulsion and land seizures increased dramatically after the second intifada began in September 2000, and continues to this day. In the first four years of the second intifada, the IDF used bulldozers to destroy more than 4,000 Palestinian homes. Thousands of Palestinians, including the families we represented in this lawsuit, have lost loved ones to IDF home demolitions. Much of the world community, including the United Nations, has condemned these demolitions as clear violations of international humanitarian law.

Here are our clients’ stories:

The Al Sho’bi family: Mahmoud Omar Al Sho’bi is from Nablus in the West Bank. In April 2002, a D9 bulldozer destroyed Mr. Al Sho’bi’s family home without warning in an IDF attack in the middle of the night. His father Umar, his sisters Fatima and Abir, his brother Samir, pregnant sister-in-law Nabila and their three children, ages 4, 7, and 9, were all killed.

The Fayed family: Fathiya Muhammad Sulayman Fayed’s home was bulldozed during an IDF incursion into the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2002. Hundreds of buildings were destroyed allegedly to clear paths for IDF tanks. During the demolition, her son, Jamal, who was paralyzed, needed assistance to get out of the house. While the IDF briefly stopped bulldozing so Fathiya could help Jamal, they quickly resumed demolition. Fathiya escaped, but was unable to get Jamal out, and he was killed.

The Abu Hussein family: A D9 demolished the Abu Hussein family home in the al-Salam neighborhood of Rafah in 2002. Destruction began without warning at 5:00 a.m., injuring six family members inside. After being warned, IDF halted active demolition but fired on neighbors and relatives trying to evacuate those in the house.

The Khalafallah family: In a July 2004 incursion into Khan Yunis Refugee Camp, the IDF demolished over 70 homes. At midnight, a bulldozer approached the home of Ibrahim Khalafallah and his wife Eida, where they lived with their 5 children, 2 daughters-in-law and 4 grandchildren. Ibrahim, in his 70’s and sick, was unable to move. When the bulldozer hit the house, Eida tried to stop the driver, but he continued, destroying the home and killing Ibrahim.

The Corrie family: Rachel Corrie went to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a Palestinian-led movement using nonviolence to resist the Israeli occupation of Palestine. In March 2003, Rachel stood in front of the Nasrallah family home to protect it from demolition while the family was inside. Despite her fluorescent orange jacket and fellow activists waiving to stop the soldiers, they drove a D9 bulldozer over Rachel, crushing her to death.

CCR’s lawsuit on behalf of these families charges Caterpillar, Inc. with aiding and abetting war crimes and other serious human rights violations on the grounds that the company provided bulldozers to the Israeli military knowing they would be used unlawfully to demolish homes and endanger civilians in Palestine. The international law-based claims were brought under the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) and the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which CCR pioneered as a tool to pursue international human rights violations in U.S. courts. Additionally, the suit charged Caterpillar with violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, wrongful death, public nuisance, and negligence. The suit sought an injunctive order directing Caterpillar to stop providing equipment and services to the Israeli government, as well as damages.

On September 17, 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, ruling that the court did not have jurisdiction to decide the case because Caterpillar’s bulldozers were ultimately paid for by the United States Government. Because of the U.S. government’s decision to grant military assistance to Israel, any decision regarding whether Caterpillar aided and abetted war crimes would impermissibly intrude upon the executive branch’s foreign policy decisions. In its decision, the Court did not rule on the question of whether Caterpillar aided and abetted Israeli war crimes.

CCR has continued to work with the Rachel Corrie Foundation in its efforts to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people, demand accountability for Rachel’s death, and challenge the United States’ support of the Israeli government despite its grave and continuous human rights violations against Palestinians and Palestinian rights activists.