US court dismisses suit over Israeli bulldozing

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SAN FRANCISCO, Sep 17 (Reuters) Saying its role was not to criticize US policy towards Israel, an American federal appeals court dismissed a lawsuit today charging that Caterpillar bulldozers aided killing and torture in the Palestinian territories.

Relatives of 16 Palestinians and one American killed or injured by Israeli demolitions sued the heavy construction machine manufacturer. They alleged that by selling bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes, Caterpillar was responsible for war crimes, cruel and inhumane punishment and other violations.

The US government paid for the bulldozers, which were transferred to the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF sometimes uses engineering vehicles in operations aimed at curbing Palestinian militant activity.

A lower court dismissed the suit and the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals backed that decision, saying that to render a judgment on the matter would interfere with American foreign policy.

''It is not the role of the courts to indirectly indict Israel for violating international law with military equipment the United States government provided and continues to provide,'' Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw wrote for a three-judge panel.

''The executive branch has made a policy determination that Israel should purchase Caterpillar bulldozers,'' the decision said. ''A court could not find in favor of the plaintiffs without implicitly questioning, and even condemning, United States foreign policy toward Israel.'' The 9th Circuit has in some previous cases shied away from lawsuits in which American policy was in question. Because the United States executive branch paid for the Caterpillar bulldozers sent to Israel, the sale was an extension of US national security decisions, the judge wrote.

''In this regard, we are mindful of the potential for causing international embarrassment were a federal court to undermine foreign policy decisions in the sensitive context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,'' the ruling said.

Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar has sold bulldozers to Israel since the Jewish state took control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the court said.

REUTERS RC BST0102

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