The National Building Museum has cancelled a Sept. 14 public ceremony to honor Caterpillar Inc. with this year's Henry C. Turner Prize after a U.S.-based Middle East peace advocacy group demanded the award be rescinded. At issue is the Israel Defense Forces' alleged use of Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy Palestinian settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Civilians were killed during the operation. The museum declined the group's request to rescind.
Cat has “been on notice that these bulldozers are used for human-rights violations,” says Craig Corrie, head of the Olympia, Wash.-based Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, which protested the award in an August letter to the museum. Corrie's 23-year-old daughter, Rachel, died in 2003 when an IDF dozer operator ran over her. “When you give out these awards, you need to think about how these machines are used.”
Caterpillar says that it sells military-grade equipment through a U.S. purchasing program that supplies goods to allies, such as Israel. Further, it says it is legally bound to adhere to federal anti-boycott laws prohibiting private sanctions that the U.S. government does not recognize.
“We have compassion for all persons affected by the political strife in the Middle East and support a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” says Cat in a statement. However, the company “cannot monitor the use of every piece of equipment around the world.” It goes on to say that it “does not condone the illegal or immoral use of any Caterpillar equipment.”
This is the first time that the museum has cancelled the public ceremony for the award, which was first issued in 2002 in honor of Henry C. Turner, founder of Turner Construction Co. Winners are awarded a trophy and a cash prize of $25,000, funded through a Turner endowment. Cancelling the ceremony in Washington, D.C., was a joint decision among Turner, Cat and the museum. They feared that protests and counter-protests would pose a safety risk.
“We feel the environment … has become politicized, and this will divert attention from construction engineering, which is the purpose of the prize and central to the museum's mission,” says the museum in a statement. Corrie is still asking the museum to rescind the award.
Five industry judges, including one of ENR's leaders, voted unanimously to give the prize to Caterpillar for its long history of innovation and for boosting sustainability and productivity in the field.