WASHINGTON (JTA) — The National Building Museum canceled a ceremony honoring Caterpillar after pressure from a foundation named for Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza.
"We feel the environment for the 2011 Henry C. Turner Prize has become politicized and this will divert attention from innovation in construction technology, which is the purpose of the prize and central to the Museum’s mission," said a letter from Chase Rynd, the museum’s director, sent Sept. 2 to Corrie’s parents, who run the foundation. "With an abundance of concern for the safety of Museum staff and guests attending the event in light of potential protests and counter-protests, the Museum and Turner have decided not to hold the public ceremony."
The ceremony was to have been held Sept. 14.
The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice launched a petition seeking the withdawal of the prize; Caterpillar has long resisted pressure from pro-Palestinian groups not to sell its bulldozers to Israel.
The Corrie Foundation said it would join with other groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation to continue to press the museum and to rescind the prize altogether.
"Cindy and Craig Corrie will present the petition, already totaling 5,300 signatures and 55 organizational endorsements, to the National Building Museum within the next week," the foundation said in a Sept. 7 statement.
Corrie was protesting housing demolitions along Gaza’s border with Egypt in 2003 when she was crushed by an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar bulldozer.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by her family against the Israeli army in an Israeli court is pending an outcome. The army maintains that Corrie was not visible to the driver and that activists had been warned away from the site, which the army said was being bulldozed because it concealed arms-smuggling tunnels.
Israel has also bulldozed Palestinian residences it says were built illegally and to punish the families of terrorists.
The $25,000 Turner prize awards "an invention, an innovative methodology, and/or exceptional leadership by an individual or team of individuals in construction technology."
The museum is an independent nonprofit chartered by Congress.