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Saperstein: The people of Sudan are our brothers and sisters, whose blood is being shed while the world turns a blind eye.
> view picture of Rabbi Saperstein at the rally
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2004 - At a symbolic "die-in" demonstration at Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, Rabbi David Saperstein joined Members of Congress, human rights leaders, clergy, and more than one thousand others in calling for immediate and effective action to prevent genocide in Darfur, Western Sudan. Demonstrators lied down on the grass during much of the time so as to represent the one thousand deaths occurring each day in the region. At the same time, the U.S. Congress considered a concurrent resolution to declare "genocide" in Sudan and take stronger action on behalf of Darfur's victims. In his remarks at the event, Saperstein said, "In a moment of urgency and hope, we stand here-and we lie down on the ground here today-to remember that justice is our duty, to recognize the image of the Divine in every human life, to renounce inaction in the face of enormous tragedy, and, we pray, to rouse an immediate and effective response from the world at large on behalf of the victims of Sudan." The complete remarks follow:
"Do not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor," God admonishes us in Leviticus 19.
In a makeshift refugee camp in Darfur, Western Sudan, a tear flows down the cheek of a defenseless mother as she strokes the arm and face of her starving child, her head is covered but her eyes convey a truth of overwhelming anguish.
We will not stand idly by the blood of this child.
In Darfur's open desert, a militia of Arab fighters backed by the Sudanese government rides rampant on camels and horses, fanning the flames of ethnic strife. Villages and towns are scorched. Food and water, i.e., the withholding of them, are used as weapons of death. And innocent people of Darfur African tribes are forcibly abducted, enslaved, raped, and slaughtered in mass numbers as part of a systematic campaign to wipe out the group of peoples from the region.
We will not stand idly by their blood.
In the capital city of Khartoum, the face of a top official reddens in anger as he strongly denies evidence that the government of Sudan recruits and arms a militia to terrorize and murder ethnic black Africans, and blocks humanitarian access for relief workers in Darfur.
And we say to him, "Do not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor!"
In the eyes of the world community, the genocidal activity and terror perpetrated against millions of people of ethnic black African origin finally gain attention.
We stand here-and we lie down on the ground here today-in solidarity with every one of us and every one of them.
And, in a moment of urgency and hope, we stand here-and we lie down on the ground here today-to remember that justice is our duty, to recognize the image of the Divine in every human life, to renounce inaction in the face of enormous tragedy, and, we pray, to rouse an immediate and effective response from the world at large on behalf of the victims of Sudan.
We stand here-and we lie down on the ground here today-to condemn the government of Sudan and the militias they support who are responsible for atrocities that triggered what has developed into one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today. In the past year, an estimated 30,000 civilians have lost their lives, more than one million villagers have been internally displaced and forced to live in one of 129 refugee camps, and another 200,000 have fled to neighboring Chad. The disaster has so swept over the region that U.S. agencies state that even if safety is provided and humanitarian relief is rushed to the victims in Darfur now, perhaps a third of a million refugees may still die because of disease and man-made famine.
We stand here-and lie down on the ground here to say-that we dare not cover our eyes in the face of the evil. We dare not sit on the sidelines when the time for nations to support effective intervention is upon us. We dare not forget the historical injustices, the tragedies, wrought because of callous indifference. We dare not forget that what we act out here in this place at this time is being enacted with a deadly effect in real life, day in and day out in Darfur.
And I stand here today because, for thousands of years, Jews have been among the quintessential victims of persecution and oppression simply because of who we were, because of what we believed. We waited for others to speak out - but often we heard only silence. If the words "Never Again" that we use to describe the Jewish commitment to prevent another Holocaust mean anything, it is that we can never again stand silent in the face of genocidal activity.
The United States is mobilizing an international response to the crisis. Today, the U.S. Congress engages in a historic debate over whether the United States should use the term genocide to describe the atrocities in Darfur. Such a genocide declaration would not be merely semantics, but would put pressure on the world community, including our own government, to take the action we know to be necessary to stop the death toll from getting any higher.
The word genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish refugee from Poland who lost his family in the Holocaust. He drafted the Genocide Treaty working out of the offices of our Reform Jewish Movement's headquarters in New York. His papers reside at our Religious Action Center. He wanted to create international norms that would prevent genocide from occurring again. He succeeded in creating the legal norms; we must now succeed in ensuring they mean something. At the core of the Treaty is the reason we are here: it is the vision that the genocide must be stopped before it culminates in massive death, not after when after is too late.
Toward that end the Genocide Treaty broadens the definition of genocide to include activity clearly intended to lead toward genocide. The Treaty describes genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group; killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or, forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Lemkin well understood that human ash in massive crematoria was not the only evidence of genocide. The bone-thin corpses of those dead from starvation in camps, the bullets and rape and pillage used as instruments of ethnic cleansing-all these too are indicia of genocidal activity.
Those signs of genocide are present throughout the Darfur region. Janjaweed fighters and members of the Sudanese army have used aerial bombings, gunfire, starvation, and disease to carry out their schemes of ethnic cleansing. Darfuris suffer persistent attacks simply because of their tribal identity and the color of their skin. And while they face death without proper medical attention, food, and water, the perpetrators are getting away with murder.
The people of Sudan are our brothers and sisters, whose blood is being shed while the world turns a blind eye. It is now time not only for moral voices to be heard, but for the world to act before more innocent people perish. We must achieve immediate protection for Darfurian lives at risk. We must call the world to prevent this genocide. We must achieve full and free access for relief workers to deliver humanitarian aid without any unnecessary delays or restrictions for the victims in Sudan and neighboring Chad. We must insist on sanctions on the government of Sudan until the atrocities have ended and all refugees and displaced persons seeking to return to their homes in dignity are safe. We must never forget that the people of Sudan are our brothers and sisters, our neighbors in the global community. And we are to say we will not stand by the blood of our neighbors-not now, not ever.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis .