This is one of those "occasional other messages" from me. I try not to burden you too much with my personal politics, but these politics are more than personal.
March 7, 2005
As work continues throughout tsunami-stricken coastal Asia, I wanted to alert you to another crisis that cries out for attention. This is a crisis borne not of nature, but of human evil.
In the African nation of Sudan, a battle rages between pastoral villagers and nomads. The nomads are called janjaweed, literally translated "evil men on horseback."
With the support of the Sudanese Government, these marauders have launched a widespread program of ethnic cleansing throughout the Darfur region of western Sudan. The result -- hundreds of thousands dead, millions driven from their homes into refugee camps, villages razed, women raped in front of their children, and livestock and crops destroyed.
The janjaweed have emptied a region the size of Texas of its people. The United States government has labeled the situation genocide.
Given the history of the Jewish people and our own experience with genocide, we in particular must not look away. In fact, at American Jewish World Service (AJWS), we believe we have a unique responsibility to speak out. Click here to take action.
AJWS is working directly with local relief and refugee aid groups to provide drinkable water, emergency medical care, and trauma counseling for the survivors of this onslaught, including thousands of women who were raped by janjaweed. Diarrhea in the camps threatens to kill young children who survived the guns and knives, and we are supporting medical interventions to address that scourge.
But to be honest, all we can do is treat symptoms on the ground until the government-sponsored killing is halted.
Last summer I traveled to Darfur as part of a fact-finding mission. I spoke with many survivors -- each with a chillingly similar tale of aerial bombing, wanton destruction, murder, and abuse. I will never forget the look of a 10-year old boy at one camp clinging for dear life to a medical assistant -- the child had watched as janjaweed murdered his parents and brothers.
Later, a delegation of us led by Elie Wiesel personally briefed Kofi Annan and urged him to do all within his power to stop the attacks.
Yet, many months later, the killing continues.
Just last week, the New York Times published a column by Nicholas Kristof that recounts the anger of a 28-year old Marine Captain, one of only three American military men posted to Darfur. The Captain, Brian Steidle, watched the janjaweed destroy a village of 25,000. Sudanese military held Mr. Steidle and other African Union observers at a distance while the janjaweed ransacked and pillaged.
Says Steidle, ''The entire village is now gone. It's a big black spot on the earth.''
Steidle has no doubt he is a witness to genocide: ''Every single day you go out to see another burned village, and more dead bodies. And the children -- you see 6-month-old babies that have been shot, and 3-year-old kids with their faces smashed in with rifle butts. And you just have to stand there and write your reports.''
Elie Wiesel has been among the most outspoken voices calling the world's attention to Darfur, which he calls "today's world capital of human pain, suffering and agony."
He goes on to say: "Not to assist Sudan's victims today would for me be unworthy of what I have learned from my teachers, my ancestors and my friends, namely that God alone is alone: His creatures must not be."
In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to update you on progress in tsunami reconstruction. But as Jews who have seen what we have seen and suffered as we have, we must also lead the way in demanding that our leaders do everything in their power to end this new century's first genocide.
I ask you to join us -- by not averting your eyes, by taking every opportunity to speak out for the victims of Darfur, and to tell your friends and neighbors what is happening.
Simply, as Elie Wiesel has said, "what is at stake is our own humanity."
American Jewish World Service
P.S. You can take action TODAY. Last Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives eliminated $150 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Darfur. Send your elected representatives an email demanding the aid be restored, by using our simple take action system.
P.P.S. A good starting place for learning more about Darfur is our Sudan crisis page: www.ajws.org
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© American Jewish World Service 2005