Our friend, the bulldozer (that bears the name "Caterpillar)
By Doron Rosenblum
[Ha'aretz, 20 Sept 2002]:
There's no time like the holiday season for making goodwill gestures,
ruminating about life, tallying up assets and remembering the best of
friends. And is there any friend more deserving of a festive salute
than a certain loyal buddy - a longtime pal whose central place in
our life does not get the proper appreciation during the rest of the
Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and with tumultuous applause
welcome a rusty, dusty holiday guest, now advancing to the front of
the stage with the creaking of roller tracks. Gaze at the sight and
pause to reflect for a moment: Is it possible to imagine what our
life would be like without our honored guest?
It's the bulldozer - the Zionist's best friend.
It often happens, as we travel in foreign countries, that we notice a
bulldozer sitting shyly by the roadside: a roller-track tractor,
equipped with scoop or blade, that has been condemned to a "civilian
role" that would mortify even a work elephant in the Punjab. True, it
is painted red or yellow and is groomed like a thoroughbred, but one
question immediately occurs to us - as Jews, as Zionists: What is the
life of this goy? What is the purpose of its existence? To widen a
highway? To level ground for a parking lot? To dig the foundations
for an old age home?
How dreary this life is, how uninspired!
Not so the Israeli bulldozer. Its life is filled with meaning,
tension, a sense of vocation and mission.
Ho, Hebrew bulldozer, who can recount your days! You are not alone,
you are in the front rank of doing, alongside your many brothers -
some in civilian life, some in the conscript army, some called up to
the reserves - hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands who fill the
land from end to end: Huge crawlers that build bypass roads; brave
Caterpillars that forge trenches or earth ramparts to block
improvised bypass-bypass roads; tough tractors that prepare the
ground for another outpost after leveling the home of a terrorist's
mother-in-law; loyal earthmovers that engage vigorously in the
nonbuilding of the security fence; not to mention the other veteran
Land of Israel faithful, the flatbacks and bulldozers that have
transported countless mobile homes and, with a mighty swoop of the
shovel, brushed away entire casbahs.
When did all this begin? When did we become a nation for which the
bulldozer is the symbol, the definer of its identity, the seal of its
borderlessness, the pillar of dust that goes before the camp? When
did the old, squat, green John Deere tractors - which plowed fields
in pastoral humility, as far as the border and back - give way to the
iron monsters that have seized control of our lives and dominate our
consciousness? Some say it all began in the Six-Day War, at the very
moment the borders were breached and the old familiar, demarcated
homelandscape was lost.
Indeed, hardly had a day gone by after the conquest of Sinai, the
West Bank and the Golan Heights when the land was filled and teeming
with myriad bulldozers and tractors and Caterpillars (some say they
were brought in an airlift, others insist that at night, in the
parking areas, they multiply like rabbits) and, as if with a supreme
command, as though hearing a primeval voice, the bulldozers raced
forward: To the earthworks! Into the breaches! To the ramparts! To
the moving jobs! And from that time to this, they have not stopped
for a second.
Since then, the ground below our feet has not been still. There is no
wall we have not itched to topple, no grove we have not yearned to
level, no hill we have not wished to assault and plunge the teeth of
our blade into its soft soil.
Before the tonsured monks at the Latrun monastery could say a word,
all the villages in the area had been razed flat. Immediately
afterward, the bulldozers set their sights on Jerusalem. First the
dividing walls went down. Then they charged the small neighborhood of
shacks opposite the Western Wall and flattened it into a huge plaza.
Then they mounted an offensive against all the hills around the city,
sheared their tops, furrowed their slopes, dug roads leading to
helter and prepared the ground for an endless skelter of
neighborhoods. From then on, there was no limit and no end to the
lust for movement, change and earth-baring. Our friends the
bulldozers never ceased to shape the territories like plasticene.
They built and demolished Yamit, Sharm el-Sheikh, the giant airfields
in Sinai, the mobile borders in Lebanon. Let it be recorded that from
the seventh day of the Six-Day War down to our time, the intoxicating
allure of the bulldozer has persisted unabated.
Truly, is there a military, tactical, strategic, demographic,
historiographic or even theological problem that cannot be resolved
with the help of our metallic buddy?
Are there hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of an entire city or
refugee camp who are a blot on the landscape and whom you would like
to disappear? No problem: We will build a bypass road, let it cost
what it will (and at the cost of whoever). Would you like to live in
a three-storey villa in the heart of the Gaza Strip or in Khartat al-
Nabout - the site of ancient Mafiboshet - and feel as though you are
in Savyon? No problem: We will build a vast earth rampart that will
be a buffer between your view from balcony or lawn and the
provocative refugee camp across the way that extends for kilometers.
Did the army blunder while occupying a city and engaging in combat in
a built-up area? No problem: We will send the lion of the bulldozer
family, the awesome D-9, to punish and grind and shatter all the
alleys in a fit of rage. Do you want to subordinate the facts on the
ground to your worldview? No problem: We will move the ground. Would
you like Rachel's Tomb to be in Jerusalem? Just say the world: We
will connect it with the help of earthworks. And how are these
miracles fomented? What is the driving force?
That's right: our friend, the bulldozer.
Is there any object, or even person, in our annals that has received
more mention and been reported more intensively than the bulldozer? A
glance at our friend's thick file of press clippings shows that not a
week - not a day! - goes by in which it's not in the
headlines: "Bulldozer demolishes home of suspect in terror
attack"; "IDF tractor destroys vineyards in Halhoul to build bypass
road"; "IDF bulldozers raze 18 structures in Rafah area"; "New
expansion project in north Bethlehem: Bulldozers are digging a wide
new road, flanked by trenches, in the city."
So it goes, day after day, year after year. And it's not just here
that our friend has become famous: the whole world knows the story.
The bulldozer has become synonymous with Israel. Log onto an Internet
search engine or glance at sites like the Encyclopedia Britannica and
you will see that nearly three-quarters of the citations
for "bulldozer" refer to Israel and its activity in the territories,
and about half of those refer to one very specific bulldozer - the
world's most famous human bulldozer, Ariel Sharon (there are no fewer
than 9,000 citations in which "Sharon" and "bulldozer" appear in the
same document, usually as person and "handle"!).
What did we do to deserve this, you will ask.
To understand the phenomenon, a brief historical interlude is
necessary. Initially, the term "bulldozer" referred only to the scoop
or the horizontal blade that was mounted on tractors with tracks. As
we learn from www.word-detective.com, the first bulldozers were not
machines, "but violent bullies. The root meaning of `to bulldoze' (or
as it appeared originally around 1876, `to bull-dose') was to beat
someone extremely brutally, inflicting the `dose' of flogging one
would give a bull. Some of the earliest `bull-dozers' were racist
thugs who terrorized African-Americans in the post-Civil War South,
conducting a campaign of terror that included brutal beatings and
murder. `Bulldozer' or `bull-doser' was also used to describe thugs
in general, and by about 1881, the term was being used as slang for a
very large pistol.
"Given the use of `to bulldoze' as a synonym for `to intimidate
through overwhelming force' and `bulldozer' as a label for anything
that `gets the job done,' it's not surprising that `to bulldoze' soon
took on the metaphorical meaning, still used today, of `push through'
or `overwhelm.' And when, in the early 20th century, a machine was
invented that could uproot, overturn, level or just overwhelm
anything in its path, it made perfect sense to call the contraption a
Nu? Need we say more to explain the secret of the charm of the Jewish
bulldozer? To understand why in Israel it has been transformed from
just a machine into a title that is coveted by many? Into the
greatest compliment one can pay a person? To understand why we have
become the first nation in the world that elected a bulldozer as