(photo credit: Associated Press)
The United Nations has described the situation in Darfur as the world's gravest humanitarian crisis. In 2004, then-secretary of state Colin Powell called it genocide. On Tuesday, a US Congressional delegation that had visited Sudan told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, "The issue of Darfur challenges the conscience of our country."
So what is being done about it?
Darfur is a province in the southwest of Sudan, an Arab country. The area had a population of about 6 million - about 2 million have fled to neighboring Chad, while about 400,000 were killed by the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed militias that the Sudanese government supports.
Such numbers are difficult to comprehend, individual cases perhaps less so. A US State Department report issued in September 2004 told the story of one refugee:
At Am Nabak, the [State Department] team interviewed a woman living in the camp with her two-year-old daughter and husband. Her four-year-old child has been missing since her village was bombed by an aircraft and attacked by ground forces.
She noted that the village was bombed repeatedly, and then the military entered along with the [Janjaweed] militia. While ground forces set fire to the homes, helicopter gunships shot at the villagers trying to escape.
She explained that when fleeing, she was able to bring only one child. "You try to take all your children with you but sometimes you can't and have to quickly decide to take one or two of them. You hope that those able to run will follow you."
Genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism - all such characterizations surely apply. But surely the Jewish people should need no further explanations; our flashes of recognition are immediate.
Nor have the atrocities ended, nor will they end if action is not taken. In yesterday's New York Times, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof reports from his sixth visit to the region that "Sudan is arming a proxy army of Chadian rebels. ... The rebels were repulsed in late December, now they are regrouping for another attempt. ... The present Western policy of playing down genocide and hoping it will peter out has proved to be bankrupt practically as well as morally." Sudan appears to be trying to install a puppet regime in Chad, which it will allow to surround or attack the camps of refugees from Sudan.
The US is now pushing in the UN for the weak and ineffective African Union force in the area to be integrated into a more robust UN-sponsored presence. Sudan has been lobbying against a UN force. The Associated Press reported yesterday that Fatahi Khalil, the dean of the Sudanese Bar Association and secretary of the Popular Organization for the Defense of the Homeland and the Faith, told a large anti-UN protest in Khartoum, "Even if they send pure Muslim or Arab troops we will consider them invaders and will fight them."
Such intimidation tactics may well be successful in once again dissuading a reluctant international community from taking effective action. In the US, a Save Darfur Coalition has formed, comprised of about 150 religious and humanitarian organizations, including many Jewish groups (www.savedarfur.org). The Jewish community should be out in force on April 30 when this coalition holds a massive rally in Washington, DC.
Israel, too, should not be silent. It should not matter that both the perpetrators and the victims are predominately Muslim.
The State Department team interviewed over 1,000 refugees, who reported that their attackers said things like, "This place belongs to Arab tribes, blacks must leave." Another was told, "Slaves, run! Leave the country. You don't belong - why are you not leaving this area for Arab cattle to graze?"
The century-long Arab war against the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel is made of the same bloody intolerance the world has seen against the Blacks in Sudan. As a Jewish and democratic state, Israel must speak out when thousands of people are being slaughtered, starved and displaced.