Divest so that Children Can Live – Layal Ahmed

UC Berkeley’s divestment bill has given me hope. As a Lebanese growing up in the 80’s in the then occupied southern part of the country, my life was and will always be centered on the Arab-Israeli conflict. SB118A awakened my activism for this issue that has shaped every aspect of my life. It also revived a recurring nightmare I’ve had ever since I can remember of an F-16 flying over my head as I run out of breath attempting to duck for cover. Not surprisingly, the engines of these F-16’s are central to the UCB’s divestment bill, which urges UC regents to stop investing in two companies that allow these planes to hover over my land, terrorize and kill my people. In my nightmare(s) I can hear the planes and see them launching a missile at me. I always wake up right before the missile hits me, and I’ve been told it’s impossible to watch yourself die in a dream. Reality is sadly and starkly different: missile air strikes do kill, and I have heard and seen these planes kill thousands of people in my lifetime and in my country.

Like many Lebanese and Palestinians, I’ve always heard people around me repeat “justice shall prevail… eventually” in reference to the suffering we have been enduring for the past 6 decades. When I learned of the original vote and the sweeping victory in passing the bill by a 16 to 4 majority, those words took a new meaning for me, they were no longer an abstract hymn uttered for self-comfort, but a reality materializing piercingly but peacefully. I let out a long-held sigh of relief… briefly… Then the veto happened and drowned my hopes and voice. My brief sigh was nothing but a gasp for air in a sea of orchestrated deceit.

I followed the deliberations to override the veto painfully and saw that my suffering didn’t mean much to some. The death, pain, oppression of my people paled in comparison to some imagined feeling of marginalization of someone on a university campus. Fear of marginalization, it seems, is more real than fear of an air strike or a cluster bomb or of white phosphorus pouring down on you from an F-16 ridden sky!

The position taken by the anti-divestment group is one that I can’t comprehend it. To them I want to say: have you heard about the massacres of Deir Yassin in 1948? Sabra and Shatila in 1982? Qana in 1996? Qana in 2006? Does anyone know that Gaza is currently under siege? Did anyone follow the brutal assault on Gaza in 2009?

I think of all of this and I remember the roaring sounds of those planes hovering before a strike. I see the children in Gaza and I shudder to think how they must feel when they hear the buzzing of impending doom. I see the children in Qana who suffocated under the rubble of their shelter and died in their sleep from an air strike. I remember that July day in 2006 very well, and how we woke up to the horrible news of ANOTHER Qana massacre. I see the children carried by firemen and soldiers on TV, their bodies are stiff, and some are still clutching at their stuffed animals. I remember finding some strange solace in the sight of their toys. I remember telling myself that maybe; hopefully, they did not have nightmares like me of a plane coming to kill them. They dreamed of games and cookies and swings and they didn’t hear the howl of F-16’s. I refused to believe they watched my nightmare unfold onto them.

I’ve seen so much death, so much suffering. I’ve heard F-16’s time and again fly over my city and my home and terrorize me. I’ve experienced fear, horror, pain, panic, shock, loss, hopelessness and helplessness… I want to tell the world what I have seen and I don’t want them to rob me of my voice. I want to name all the children who have died in air strikes. I want to name all the children who have been maimed, paralyzed, handicapped by those planes, I want to name all the children who have been traumatized for life from the sound of those planes. Maybe then those who oppose this bill will realize that their feelings of marginalization on campus wither in comparison to the endless tragedy of stolen childhood in our land, and that today what matters is saving children’s lives.

4/26/2010

Layal Ahmad, a Lebanese from the village of Kfar Tibnit

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