OK – pub quiz time and an easy one for starters: where does Homer Simpson work? That’s right – in a nuclear plant. That’s what makes The Simpsons such a good show. It takes something that could be stretched and chewed over and tosses it lightly away. Homer makes his living and supports his family through the nuclear industry.
Which brings us to Caterpillar. They’re a company that employs hundreds of people in Larne and Belfast. Last year it got £1.2 million in funding from InvestNI. Well, you may say, companies need subsidies sometimes – it’s worth it for the job. The catch is the Homer Simpson catch. Caterpillar is a US engineering firm and bulldozers made by Caterpillar were in action in Gaza a short time ago, and over the years has razed thousand of Palestinian homes and farms. They’ve wrecked electricity lines, water supplies and sewerage systems. In short, they’re part of Israel’s war machine. Thanks to the work done by people in Belfast and Larne, Palestinians are suffering.
Tough one, eh? People in Belfast and Larne need jobs. Caterpillar creates hundreds of them. Should we refuse to have anything to do with them, on the grounds that they’ve been used to terrorise the Palestinian people? Or should we avert our gaze and be glad the company’s giving ordinary people a living?Working in the nuclear plant doesn’t seem to bother Homer – the plant is being used for positive, peaceful purposes. The people who work for Caterpillar in Larne and Belfast might say that they just build the machines; what others do with them is entirely their affair.
The purist would say these machines are helping to make life hell for Palestinians and we should have no truck with them. But be honest: if the breadwinner in your family was working for Caterpillar, would you urge him or her to stop immediately, with all the implications that would have for the family?
My instincts tell me that making such machines, given the suffering they have helped inflict, is wrong. Just as it’s wrong to be involved in building tanks and fighter jets and missiles which the UK then sells to the highest bidder in what is euphemistically called the arms trade. If you or I were found making a home-made pistol or building a home-made bomb, we’d be in front of a judge and inside a prison cell in double-quick time. Shouldn’t the same criteria be applied here? Irish people are helping heap misery on the people of Gaza. How can we call on Israel to stop its trail of slaughter, if we’re handing them part of the machinery they need to inflict that slaughter?
In the end, you have to decide whose side you’re on. There’s no point using the excuse of the train-driver who brought Jews to Auschwitz: “It’s not me – I’m just doing my job”.