Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Cautionary Tale: Protesters Rally for Human Rights in York, Pennsylvania

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Cautionary Tale: Protesters Rally for Human Rights in York, Pennsylvania

Article excerpt

Despite the freezing temperature and snowy and slushy conditions on the ground, about 50 stouthearted protesters ral lied at the York County, PA prison and also at a nearby distribution plant owned by the Caterpillar Corporation. The Convergence for Human Rights sponsored the event, which was held Saturday, Dec. 6, 2003, and endorsed by over 66 groups (see ).

"We are out here protesting the government's treatment of immigrants, the USA PATRIOT Act and the erosion of our rights since 9/11," said Keith Dobson of York. "We are also here to protest Caterpillar profiting from people's misery by selling its bulldozers to Israel, which uses them to destroy Palestinians' homes and for collective punishment, too. That is a violation of both the Geneva Convention and human rights."

York College student Beth Zovko, who hails from Pittsburgh, was among those who marched in the cold from the county prison to the Caterpillar plant situated a few miles away. "I'm here today to spell out my sense of indignation at the injustice that is going on right now in my country," she said. "I think that it is appalling that our civil rights are being thrown away."

Both the prison, which holds hundreds of immigrant detainees-under suspect legal authority-for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), and the Caterpillar plant are located on the outskirts of York, a town of 41,000.

York's roots date to colonial days. In 1777-78, during the American Revolution, it even served as the capital city, after the British military forces had taken Philadelphia and the embattled Continental Congress was forced to flee that city. York is located 15 miles north of the Mason-Dixon Line, 30 miles east of Gettysburg, where one of the Civil War's most historic and lethal battles was fought in the summer of 1863, and 50 miles directly north of Baltimore, Maryland. Many of the Dec. 6 protesters were from York County, which has a population of 381,000.

The Caterpillar plant's reputation has been sullied by the fact that it distributes parts for armored bulldozers used by Israeli occupation forces to oppress the indigenous Palestinian people (For details, see Ronald L. Bleier's "Israeli Terror" in the july 2003 issue of The Link, available at .) A few weeks before the protest, the Caterpillar bulldozer which was proudly displayed on the front lawn of the plant was removed.

"I came up here to York just to let the world know how much I care about Rachel Corrie," said a young protester who didn't want his name used. "What the Israelis did to her was a terrible crime."

Corrie was the 23-year-old peace and justice activist from Olympia, WA killed on March 16, 2003, at the Rafah refugee camp in occupied Gaza by an Israeli soldier operating a Caterpillar bulldozer. It is clear from the photos taken at the crime scene that the driver deliberately ran over Rachel-not once, but twice!

Asylum seekers Warehoused

Since 9/11, BICE-which comes under the jurisdiction of U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's justice Department-has been warehousing political asylum seekers in facilities like York County Prison (see box on facing page). In violation of international law, BICE has refused to release the names of all of its detainees, many of whom are of Arab descent. …

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