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Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on the 5th Anniversary of the International Mine Ban Treaty

Saperstein: Our nation's refusal to sign the international Mine Ban Treaty and stop the production of anti-personnel landmines is a grave failure of moral vision and of military strategy.


Contact:
Alexis Rice or Rachel Wainer 202-387-2800

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2002 - On the fifth anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty, Rabbi David Saperstein released the following statement:

December 3rd marks the fifth anniversary of the Mine Ban Treaty opening for signatures. Since 1997, one hundred and thirty nations have become signatories, including every member of NATO except the United States.

In the Jewish tradition's rules on ethics in war, the concept of ba'al taschit (originally banning the destruction of fruit bearing trees for military purposes) protected the ability of productive civilian life to resume after the fighting was over. No weapon and no military strategy today so threaten this goal more than the use of landmines, 80 million of which are in the ground around the world.

Often called "weapons of mass destruction in slow motion," landmines indiscriminately maim and kill more than 15,000 people each year in more than eighty nations. Their use inevitably results in the death or injury of innocent civilians-long after wars are won or lost. One third of landmine victims are children under fifteen years old. The victims are the single mother in Uganda who was traveling to visit family and had her right foot severed when a landmine exploded under her bus. Or the father from Senegal who went to a store to buy gifts for his adopted daughters and stepped on a landmine on his way home, losing his right leg. Or the two Bosnian sisters who were on their way to work in a shoe factory when one sister stepped on a landmine; while rushing to help her, the other sister accidentally detonated another mine. Both sisters lost their feet. Thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah urged all nations to "beat their swords into plowshares" (2:4). How ironic that many victims today are innocent farmers tilling fields with plowshares where mines lay hidden.

The United States is one of only fourteen countries that refuse to halt production of anti-personnel landmines. At the same time, the U.S. currently has 11 million anti-personnel landmines stockpiled, making our country the third largest mine arsenal in the world. Our nation's refusal to sign the international Mine Ban Treaty and stop the production of anti-personnel landmines is a grave failure of moral vision and of military strategy. In the words of Lt. General Hal Moore, former Chief of Staff for Army Personnel, "antipersonnel landmines pose tremendous risks to civilians and U.S. troops on the ground. The United States should eliminate from our arsenal this weapon that cannot tell the difference between child and soldier, and that lies in wait to produce death and grief." Lt. General Moore was one of eight senior retired U.S. commanders who recently called on President Bush to ban anti-personnel landmines.

President Bush must take affirmative steps toward banning these dangerous weapons. When it does, the United States can use its considerable influence with countries such as Russia, India, and Pakistan, which laid hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel mines during the past year alone. By banning landmines, the U.S. can protect innocent human life without jeopardizing our military strategy. The Reform Jewish community calls on the President to sign the Mine Ban Treaty and ban anti-personnel landmines.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) , whose over 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews , and the Central Conference of American Rabbis(CCAR) whose membership includes over 1800 Reform rabbis .



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