A Palestinian journalist who has had 12 family members killed in Gaza is calling on Northern Ireland politicians to withdraw support for a company whose machinery is used by the Israeli military.
Yousef al-Helou says bulldozers made by the US engineering company Caterpillar, which has plants in Belfast and Larne, are being employed as “weapons of war bringing destruction to Gaza.”
A dozen members of his extended family, including five children, were killed in an Israeli airstrike a fortnight ago.
Last week, his own home was destroyed with his wife and three daughters fleeing the building just before it was hit. Al-Helou is addressing meetings across Northern Ireland to highlight the plight of people in Gaza.
As well as requesting emergency supplies be sent to Palestinians, he is calling on local political parties to withdraw support for Caterpillar.
“D9 bulldozers made by Caterpillar are on the streets of Gaza now, leaving a trail of destruction behind them, razing thousands of Palestinian homes and farms in recent years,” he said.
“They have destroyed electricity lines, water supplies, and sewerage systems. These bulldozers are used as strategic weapons which form a vital part of Israel’s military arsenal.
“They have left tens of thousands of people homeless and without access to vital services which they need to live. I have seen first-hand the damage they have done.
“Given that people of Northern Ireland suffered during their own conflict, I ask them and their politicians, from the bottom of my heart, to stop supporting this company
“People I meet here are appalled at what is happening in Gaza. The goodwill towards the Palestinian people is overwhelming. But we now need practical help from the public and political leaders.”
Last year it was announced that Invest NI had offered Caterpillar over £1.2 million funding. The initiative was backed by all the main political parties. The Department of Employment and Learning also offered training support of £440,000.
Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have previously visited Caterpillar’s Chicago headquarters and are strong supporters of the company which employs several hundred people in Northern Ireland.
Sunday Life contacted Caterpillar’s Belfast and Larne offices but no-one was available for comment. The company has previously stated it doesn’t provide machinery directly to Israel.