A Chicago shareholders meeting for Peoria-based Caterpillar was the latest battleground for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as demonstrators from both sides lined up at Madison and LaSalle for a two-hour protest Wednesday.
Pro-Palestine groups say the company’s D-9 bulldozers are used by Israeli forces to demolish homes and farms.
Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan says while the company understands and sympathizes with the unrest in the Middle East, “it is not practical or possible to control how our customers use our equipment.”
Wednesday's protest was meant to do more than just complain about corporate policy. Palestinian groups had hoped to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the arrest of Chicagoan Fatima Mohammadi.
Mahammadi was detained, along with hundreds of others, trying to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza strip. Nine on board Mohammadi’s ship were killed when commandos boarded it from helicopters.
Mohamadi did not attend, but supporters say she is helping raise awareness of a conflict that has been on the back burner for many Americans.
"That’s a good thing," said Matt Gaines of the Chicago-based group Stop Cat. "It’s hard to even have those discussions the way our system is set up."
He was among about 50 people protesting Cat’s policies. Across Madison Street, however, were more than 150 pro-Israel demonstrators waving flags and asking drivers to honk their horns in support of Israel.
"I wanted to stand with Israel," says Paula Levy. "It makes my blood boil to see those people waiving their signs."
Many of the pro-Israel protesters called the aid flotilla a provocation.
Others say the time for antagonism has passed.
"We are Russian Jews," says Alex Babich. "Our parents our buried in Israel. We want peace," he said. "We do not want hatred."
Observing the peaceful protest were dozens of Chicago Police officers. Some were on horseback and others were dressed in SWAT gear.