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One year after his son's death in Libya, local dad looks back
Osama Bensadik points to areas he served as an ambulance driver and field hospital coordinator during the 2011 revolution to free Libya from Moammar Gadhafi’s rule. His son, Muhannad Bensadik, a former Magna Vista High School student, was killed in the conflict. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
A street and a college hall in Libya are among the places named to honor the sacrifice of a former Magna Vista High School student.
Muhannad Bensadik was 21 when he died fighting for freedom, respect and dignity on March 12, 2011, in Bishir, Libya, according to his father, Osama Bensadik.
Bensadik said under Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule in Libya, the African nation’s people lacked basic rights.
“We were living in fear, and Gadhafi kept the country locked where it is” without allowing it to grow and prosper, Bensadik said.
Now 48, Bensadik said his generation “could do nothing, but my son” and his generation decided enough was enough.
Muhannad Bensadik was born in North Carolina, had lived in Martinsville and frequently visited relatives here, including his mother, Suzi Elarabi.
Muhannad could have returned to Martinsville to live, his father said. Instead, he became one of the rebels that Gadhafi tried to depict as poor.
“Muhannad had everything,” Bensadik said of his son, who was a medical student and a former Boy Scout. “He was polite, peaceful and became a wonderful guy. But when it came to freedom, to dignity and respect of life, (he) said, ‘That is enough. Life without freedom is not worth living. Living without dignity is not worth it.’”
The elder Bensadik said he was in Martinsville when his son called and, according to custom, asked for his father’s blessing to join the revolution.
Muhannad initially joined peaceful protests.
The protesters “just wanted basic human rights, but this guy (Gadhafi) doesn’t like demonstrations. He did not have any respect for his own people,” Bensadik said. “He (Gadhafi) called us rats. People who were just asking to be treated like human” beings.
With tensions mounting in Libya, Bensadik declined to give his blessing over the phone. “I said, ‘My son, for God’s sake, wait until I get there.’” Bensadik immediately left the U.S. and returned to Libya on Feb. 18, 2011, where he met with his son.
Again, Muhannad asked for his father’s blessing, and said, “‘Daddy, it is over for Gadhafi. It’s over,’” Bensadik said.
“What I wanted to say at that moment was, ‘My son, I wish you were home with your mother,’” Bensadik said. “But what I said was, ‘My son, just take care and God protect you.’”
“From the point of when I got there the revolution started. I moved forward” with the rebels, said Bensadik, who since has returned to the area. At that time, both he and his son “were on the front lines.”
The elder Bensadik drove an ambulance and coordinated a field hospital. His son, he said, fought. The volunteer rebel army refurbished old Russian firearms and converted vehicles in their bid for freedom.
The last time he saw his son, “Muhannad said, ‘Dad, I’m going to move forward’” with the rebels, Bensadik said.
That was around March 12, 2011. Gadhafi’s forces surged from the opposite direction with a 40-mile long convoy of “huge machinery,” tanks and all manner of fire power against the ill-equipped rebel forces. The rebels were forced back as the convoy continued its destruction on the way to Benghazi, Bensadik said.
Doctors, nurses and other first responders — all volunteers — were captured by Gadhafi’s troops, and their hands were tied “behind their backs, and they do mass executions. They had no mercy on their own people,” Bensadik said.
During that time, Bensadik heard rumors that his son had been killed, but no body had been found. Other rumors had Muhannad alive but captured by the enemy but, again, there was no confirmation.
Bensadik continued on with the rebels.
“It was an unconventional war. We were dealing with a very dirty war. On our side, we were fighting the decent war” and took Gadhafi’s wounded troops to the field hospital for care, Bensadik said.
“I had to fight that,” he said, and explained that some other ambulance drivers advocated shooting those wounded soldiers or leaving them to die.
“I told them, if you are going to shoot him, the bullet will have to go through me first. I lost my son. I have more right than you to shoot this guy,” Bensadik said. “We were doing the decent job. We were treating them human.”
Medical personnel began with one or two ambulances, said Bensadik, who had been a volunteer with the Martinsville Fire and EMS Department. “We ended up having 40 ambulances,” at least half of which were “man-made” (fashioned from other vehicles).
As Gadhafi’s troops continued to advance toward Benghazi in mid-March of last year, Bensadik said that media outlets predicted “a massacre in Benghazi if NATO” failed to intervene before the forces reached the city.
An estimated one million people lived in Benghazi in 2010. The port city on the Mediterranean Sea is the second largest in Libya.
“It was a dangerous situation. A lot of people ran for their life, and I don’t blame them,” Bensadik said. Gadhafi’s troops “were not coming (to Benghazi) for a picnic. They were coming for revenge. Gadhafi wanted to make Benghazi pay the price.”
NATO intervened on March 19, Bensadik recalled.
During that time, Muhannad’s body was found. He was buried on March 26, his father said.
When the fighting finally ended in October, “people were throwing flowers ... Everybody was hugging and kissing their children and sons, but my son was not there to see. Muhannad was not there to see the joy that at last, Libya was free. There was no dictatorship,” said Bensadik.
He added that he takes some solace that Muhannad’s most important goals of freedom and dignity were realized.
As the majority of Libya finds a new normal, Bensadik said his only regret “is the amount of people who died for this revolution. But that is life. People sacrifice for others to live. Because they, like my son, say, ‘Enough is enough.’”