By Jamsine Kozak-Gilroy
The current Student Government Vote includes an initiative to reinforce the 2010 vote to kick Caterpillar, Inc (stylized by the brand as CATerpillar and referred to as CAT) equipment off campus, alongside initiatives aimed at food services on campus, asking the college to formally de-shelve Sabra Hummus and Driscoll’s berries.
On March 16, 2003 Rachel Corrie, a twenty three year old student at the Evergreen State College, was killed by Caterpillar bulldozer being driven by a member of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) while using her body to shield Palestinian homes in line to be demolished. To this day, the IDF continues to routinely destroy Palestinian houses and businesses using Caterpillar equipment.
In 2005, a group of over 170 Palestinian non governmental organizations (NGOs) stood together in asking the world to Boycott Israeli products, Divest from Israeli companies, and Sanction the Israeli government (a movement known as BDS—standing for boycott, divest, sanction) until Israel complies with international law, which would include; “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall, recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties,” The BDS movement has since spread globally, becoming the number one rallying call of activists for Palestine and its citizens.
In the Spring of 2010 The Evergreen State College passed two resolutions in support of BDS. One called for divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine by the Evergreen State College Foundation and another that called for a mandate against the use of Caterpillar equipment on campus. Both were voted on by the student body and passed, with 79.5 and 71.8 percent of the vote respectively. The vote has been continuously disrespected by the administration, most recently with the use of Caterpillar generators in the renovations and repairs of the Lab II building.
The construction company hired by Evergreen attempted to cover up the use of CAT equipment by covering the CAT logo up with black duct tape. When students persisted in ripping of the duct tape and replacing it with posters connecting Caterpillar, Inc. with the IDF and the death of Rachel Corrie, the generator was moved off of the student pathway and the logo was covered by a large magnet advertising the company the generator was rented from. The generator is still in use by the Lab II building (as of May 21) now hidden behind a row of trees, across from the police services building.
In addition to being directly implicated in the death of Rachel Corrie, Caterpillar regularly provides armored bulldozers to the Israel Defense Forces through the United States Foreign Military Financing Program, which provides foreign aid grants to be used to buy military equipment produced by companies in the United States. Because of this program and CAT’s development of militarized bulldozers, CAT bulldozers have become a significant force in the IDF’s continued occupation and seizure of Palestinian land. CAT’s D9 and D10, Caterpillar’s most advanced militarized models, are consistently used in house demolitions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Blatantly violating international law, Israel has destroyed some 28,000 homes and displaced over 100,000 people since 1967.
Sabra Hummus is co-owned by the Strauss Group, a corporation that invests money in Israeli army’s elite Golani and Givati Brigades. The Golani and Givati have been cited for numerous human rights violations since the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, including during Israel’s latest assault on Gaza that has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians.
Driscoll’s Berries is a distributor that sources berries from notoriously exploitative farms, such as Sakura Farms and numerous plantations in San Quintin, Mexico. Sakuma Farms is located in the Skagit Valley in WA state and is guilty of human rights abuses, horrible working conditions, and exploitation of their workers. Thousands of San Quintin farm workers have struck recently against poverty wages, sexual abuse and the use of child labor.
These initiatives call the student’s of the Evergreen State College to stand in support of and in solidarity with the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Familias Unidas Para La Justicia, the farmworker’s union on the Sakuma berry farm. The Students for Justice in Palestine group on campus has been working in conjunction with the groups organizing the local protests against Driscoll’s and stands in solidarity with local movements for worker’s justice, as well as standing in conjunction to ask that the school approach financial decisions with social justice in mind.
While BDS is often criticized for focusing on consumer action and long term financial interests as opposed to directly and immediately addressing the day to day concerns of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it has become a crucial way of connecting activists around the world to the struggle of the Palestinian people by making them feel close and directly involved in the conflict. When Ilan Pappe, an esteemed scholar in the history of the conflict in Israel- Palestine, visited Evergreen for the inaugural Rachel Corrie memorial lecture he spoke of the increased discussion of the current state of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, saying, “you can not underrate this change in public opinion” and the role that the BDS has played.