Wednesday, July 14, 2004
Sudan has become today’s world capital of human pain, suffering and agony. There, one part of the population has been – and still is – subjected by another part, the dominating part, to humiliation, hunger and death. For a while, the so-called civilized world knew about it and preferred to look away. Now people know. And so they have no excuse for their passivity bordering on indifference. Those who, like you my friends, try to break the walls of their apathy deserve everyone’s support and everyone’s solidarity.
This gathering was organized by several important bodies. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience (Jerry Fowler), the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the American Jewish World Service (Ruth Messinger) and several other humanitarian organizations.
As for myself, I have been involved in the efforts to help Sudanese victims for some years. It was a direct or indirect consequence of a millennium lecture I had given in the White House on the subject, “The Perils of Indifference”. After I concluded, a woman in the audience rose and said: “I am from Rwanda.” She asked me how I could explain the international community’s indifference to the Rwandan massacres. I turned to the President who sat at my right and said: “Mr. President, you better answer this question. You know as well as we do that the Rwanda tragedy, which cost from 600,000 to 800,000 victims, innocent men, women and children, could have been averted. Why wasn’t it?” His answer was honest and sincere: “It is true, that tragedy could have been averted. That’s why I went there to apologize in my personal name and in the name of the American people. But I promise you: it will not happen again.”
The next day I received a delegation from Sudan and friends of Sudan, headed by a Sudanese refugee bishop. They informed me that two million Sudanese had already died. They said, “You are now the custodian of the President’s pledge. Let him keep it by helping stop the genocide in Sudan.”
That brutal tragedy is still continuing, now in Sudan’s Darfur region. Now its horrors are shown on television screens and on front pages of influential publications. Congressional delegations, special envoys and humanitarian agencies send back or bring back horror-filled reports from the scene. A million human beings, young and old, have been uprooted, deported. Scores of women are being raped every day, children are dying of disease hunger and violence.
How can a citizen of a free country not pay attention? How can anyone, anywhere not feel outraged? How can a person, whether religious or secular, not be moved by compassion? And above all, how can anyone who remembers remain silent?
As a Jew who does not compare any event to the Holocaust, I feel concerned and challenged by the Sudanese tragedy. We must be involved. How can we reproach the indifference of non-Jews to Jewish suffering if we remain indifferent to another people’s plight?
It happened in Cambodia, then in former Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda, now in Sudan. Asia, Europe, Africa: Three continents have become prisons, killing fields and cemeteries for countless innocent, defenseless populations. Will the plague be allowed to spread?
“Lo taamod al dam réakha” is a Biblical commandment. “Thou shall not stand idly by the shedding of the blood of thy fellow man.” The word is not “akhikha,” thy Jewish brother, but “réakha,” thy fellow human being, be he or she Jewish or not. All are entitled to live with dignity and hope. All are entitled to live without fear and pain.
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.
What pains and hurts me most now is the simultaneity of events. While we sit here and discuss how to behave morally, both individually and collectively, over there, in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, human beings kill and die.
Should the Sudanese victims feel abandoned and neglected, it would be our fault – and perhaps our guilt.
That’s why we must intervene.
If we do, they and their children will be grateful for us. As will be, through them, our own.