I spent my 25th Birthday on the floor of an annual church conference, across the world from the Philippine restaurant where I spent my 26th. Armed with notes scribbled in a pocket notebook, I prepared to speak about the holiness of two people, a pair of any gender or sex composition, who would commit in fidelity to each other before the eyes of society and The Divine. As the lay-delegate for my tiny church, I spent some hours parked next to the river in my Pontiac Sunfire, reviewing materials. I did not spend much time discerning about divesting funds from Caterpillar: they profit from the Israeli house-demolitions in Palestine, which is self-evidently heinous. Church money should not touch ethically questionable investments, let alone blatantly colonialist ones.
I took the microphone on June 3rd 2011, incredulous to the marrow. Several delegates had conflated the conflicts in Gaza and the Golan Heights with the issue at hand. The floor of annual conference sounded like a tabloid newsroom from the nineteen eighties—some delegates’ perceptions were twenty-years dated and flavored with prejudicial fear. Someone suggested that there might be a Caterpillar plant in Michigan, somewhere (no one knew) and threatened that jobs would be hurt. That seemed like a moot point to me when Arab families could/would be uprooted in less than twenty minutes or else die in the rubble beneath a gigantic, armor-plated bulldozer. The divestment motion was inexplicably defeated and I prayed a fateful prayer. I asked God to send me to the Holy Land to either edify or vindicate me.
Regrettably, I was vindicated 100-fold. Ironically, it is Hewlett-Packard I have learned to despise in daily life. The Jerusalem checkpoints are dehumanizing, blatantly racist chutes from the West Bank into… …what is still technically the West Bank, since the Annexation Wall is illegal and built on Palestinian Land. Look closely and the machines bear the emblematic “hp™”. Hewlett-Packard makes a fortune on normalized apartheid.
I will never buy a piece of hp equipment again but I understand why that evil is not salient. Overt racism is difficult to fathom without brushing against it. If a person has never had to leave their Arab co-worker behind at a checkpoint while white people pass freely, it is difficult to understand why I am adamant about divesting from Hewlett-Packard (and Motorola…). Caterpillar bulldozers destroy homes and water-tanks at the whim of bureaucrats, expenses charged to the owners’, sometimes regardless of who will be hurt or killed. This evil ought to be plain to see.
My role in Palestine before my long exile (13 weeks) was not as heroic as Rachel Corrie’s – I do some editing for “Wi’am Conflict Transformation Center” next to the Annexation Wall. Our idea of protest is to build a play-ground to fill the air with the sound of laughing children. My drive to create a ‘ministry of information’ has only increased. In February I worked on what I hoped would be my most educational newsletter yet: a roster of topics with links to organizations’ websites.
Meanwhile, I started having trouble digesting the tragic nature of the Occupation concurrently with the missing fervor of my general audience. A terrible history of discrimination and land-theft is being perpetrated in the most talked about and, yet, most insufficiently understood region in the world. I wove together many explanations. I questioned why I could not instill the sense of urgency that my predecessor had placed in me. People fail to see how this injustice is so much like what took place in the Americas when indigenous peoples were driven onto smaller and smaller reservations; their homes were destroyed and they were baited into armed conflicts they could not possibly win or else went compliantly into their cells and withered. Now, people are sorry. Now, people don’t have to do a damn thing but be sorry.
Is it my fault? I was still trying to be momentous this February. My Palestinian coworkers accepted me but I felt like I had failed to be pivotal for their sake. Additionally, I am a human being. The rains started and it was dark too much. I was lonely. I saw how pathetic my efforts were when levied against the occupation or even my own star-crossed history. That was when I caught the “bulldozer blues” and started entertaining thoughts of sinking Caterpillar myself. My life could have more impact, I reasoned, in an act of martyrdom than continuing to so ineffectually struggle. I could stand-up to the bulldozer and buy some family another day or else become a new headline.
I had fallen into darkness before I realized how over-extended my young heart was. I decided to confess all of my feelings to my boss. He said, with some warmth in his voice, “We like to celebrate life; I want to celebrate your life with you alive, with us.”
I awoke from my dark-narcissism and realized that fumbling-along together was what made solidarity special and that, really, this was some kind of love: to be dedicated to continuing and not insist on resolution.
Resolution is exactly what I do not have. The first week of May I watched coverage of the global Methodist conference. I was moved when my predecessor came before the assembly and spoke passionately of the truth we both know. Unfortunately, the general assembly was gun-shy and preferred to leave the decision about divestment to a financial board. I wonder if anyone on that board fathoms the occupation beyond trite headlines and the undulations of line-graphs labeled “Caterpillar”, “Motorola”, and “Hewlett Packard”. Could they fathom me, shaving my beard and putting on a suit in order to clarify to them why being morally bankrupt is more serious than losing investments?
I am far from bothering anyone right now. Caterpillar is already starting to lose support from other church denominations and socially conscious investors, which is unsurprising. Caterpillar counters that they cannot control how their products are used but they will need to go further out of their way to preserve their dying brand–sorry. Even though Caterpillar is the most obvious target for Boycott, Divest, & Sanction actions, it remains the most easily redeemed of all Occupation-related companies. When the time comes to destroy the abominable Annexation Wall, it should be a Caterpillar machine (specially designed for the job) that takes the first crunchy bite out of that cement monster. They have a concrete opportunity to be pivotal. Concrete. Get it?
Meanwhile, I have seen some‘reclaimed’ Caterpillar back-hoes sporting the Palestinian flag – which, unlike seeing an hp copier printing leaflets, actually brings a smile to my face.