There has been an intense debate at UC Berkley over a student senate bill calling for divestment from two companies. This bill and this vote is about withdrawing financial support from companies that concretely contribute to the deaths of children. It is a very human response to a very terrible reality. General Electric and United Technologies supply engines, propulsion systems, and engineering support for the Israeli military’s Apache Helicopters, F-15, and F-16 planes that, without a doubt, kill children.
The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) has been working with communities in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq for 22 years. Our staff and beneficiaries have witnessed the devastating effects of these two companies time and time again. During “Operation Cast Lead” in January 2009, we called Adham, a young man in Gaza, to check on him and his family. He told us, “It is very horrible here. Today was the worst. There were lots of F-16s above us and white phosphorous falling from the sky. I didn’t sleep last night. The sound of shelling in the north and east kept us all awake.” We spoke to him and other young people who grew up in programs MECA supports daily as they recounted tales of death and destruction for three long weeks. In 2006, we took photos of a building destroyed by an F-16 in the residential neighborhood where our project director lives. This time, no one was killed. But it was the exception, not the rule. 22 Palestinian children were killed in a two week period that summer. How many more will we stand by and watch die?
Some individuals and groups are trying to paint this bill as one-sided or political but when it comes to children’s lives, there are no sides. On Wednesday, the Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley (ASUC) will have the opportunity to override President Smelko’s veto of this bill and we hope the fact that this bill specifically addresses Israeli war crimes will not sidetrack the debate and stand in the way of our individual and collective responsibility to children in the Middle East and beyond.
Whatever happens on Wednesday, we know this bill is just the beginning of an important effort to end brutal attacks on the children we serve in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon. We thank the students who put this bill forward and the student senators who had the courage to support it despite the campaign of threats and intimidation waged against them.