Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was remarkably candid during his visit to New York last week about his government’s continued willingness to push ahead with several policies widely regarded as violations of international law.

In the course of his visit, which included a Sept. 15 speech before the UN General Assembly, Sharon said Israel would refuse to freeze the expansion of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, continue to build its 400-mile-long “security fence” between Israel and the occupied territories, and possibly disrupt Palestinian elections next January if candidates not to Israel’s liking are allowed to run for office.

Joshua Ruebner, grassroots advocacy coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a Washington-based coalition of over 200 groups, wasn’t surprised. In a telephone interview, Ruebner said Sharon’s remarks were “consistent with Israel’s continuing colonization of the West Bank, something that our organization has been warning would happen under the smokescreen of the Gaza disengagement plan.”

He said they were particularly unsurprising given that one of Sharon’s top advisers, Dov Weisglass, said about a year ago that “the real significance of the disengagement plan was to freeze the peace process.”

Critics of U.S. policies have said the Bush administration has consistently backed Sharon’s annexationist maneuvers, either openly or covertly by taking no serious action to oppose them. In the case of the expanding West Bank settlements, for example, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer said Sept. 18 that President Bush will back Israel’s claims to such territory in any future peace agreement.

The U.S. has also provided, by conservative estimates, $3 billion in aid to Israel each year, much of it military-related.

The Caterpillar corporation, which supplies Israel with giant bulldozers, has become a symbol of U.S. support for Sharon’s expansionist policies, Ruebner said. In response, protests at Caterpillar shareholder meetings, demonstrations outside its offices, and efforts to convince churches and other institutions to divest their holdings of company stock have been escalating in intensity.

“Our member groups met in Atlanta in July and decided to increase the pressure on Caterpillar to end its sale of weaponized bulldozers to Israel,” he said. “These bulldozers have been used to destroy Palestinian homes, infrastructure and agriculture. They’ve been used to build the illegal wall and the illegal settlements, as well.”

Ruebner said the group’s “CAT campaign” includes circulating 10,000 postcards at the Sept. 24 antiwar rally in Washington. The postcards are addressed to Caterpillar’s CEO and demand an end to the bulldozer sales. The campaign will also include lobbying members of Congress to refuse to accept political contributions from Caterpillar and to investigate whether the company’s sales to Israel have violated the Arms Export Control Act.

The CAT campaign is inspired, he said, “in large measure as a response to a recent appeal by more than 180 Palestinian organizations in the occupied territories, Israel and refugee camps to organize boycotts, divestment campaigns, and other steps to put pressure on the U.S. and Israel to comply with human rights standards and international law.”

Noura Erakat, a Palestinian American colleague of Ruebner’s at the U.S. Campaign, said that Sharon’s comments at the UN about Israel’s disengagement from Gaza “were particularly misleading to the general public.”

“Sharon speaks of the end of the occupation of the Gaza Strip,” she said, “but Israel still controls Gaza’s borders, airspace, water resources and movement of goods, and it reserves the right to militarily intervene at any time. It retains ultimate control and thereby denies Palestinians their right to self-determination.”

At the same time, Erakat said, “the disengagement plan has been used as a way to strengthen Israel’s hold on settlements in the West Bank” and to allow the Sharon government to say, “See, we’ve given up Gaza, so now we are entitled to maintain our settlements elsewhere.”

“But those settlements were already illegal,” she said. “It’s not as though they were ever a negotiable issue.” Similarly, she said, Sharon is trying to illegally annex East Jerusalem, which many Palestinians regard as the likely capital of their new state.

Palestinian Americans, she said, “have a special interest and duty as U.S. citizens to hold our government — particularly our congresspersons — accountable for how they spend our tax money. Our taxes should not go to support bloodshed, to support another form of apartheid, to support a situation where Palestinians are regarded as second-class citizens, persona non grata, or subhuman.

“Our elected officials should instead stand up for the principles of justice,” she said.

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