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Monday, September 18, 2006

Genocide and the rolling of pebbles

I only wish the whole world was as responsive as Mrs. Teacher's kindergarten class, here in this lily white, leafy green suburb in the peaceful Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Imagine if the world only needed to be told once before it leapt into action to resolve conflict and end suffering. Imagine.

Last night I finally overcame my own profound hopelessness about the way the whole world works, and went to SaveDarfur.org. A Massachusetts organization has been distributing green signs reading, "A call to your conscience" and "Not On Our Watch" to publicize the link. I've been ignoring them for as long as I could. Why?

Well. The signs have made me roll my eyes a little. Not on my watch? Right. I've been on "watch" ever since I received the charge that I expect is standard in Hebrew schools across the country and around the world: never again. In my case, the charge came from Mrs. Cohen, who taught our introductory Holocaust unit in third grade and showed us the number tattooed on her arm.

I was on "watch" when the former Yugoslavia descended into terror and genocide. I was on "watch" when reports of the Rwanda massacres began circulating. My ears pricked up when the Darfur killings first made the media, more than three years ago.

I have been on watch. As far as I can tell, my watch has not prevented the death of a single child, the rape of a single woman, the bloody disappearance or mutilation of a single man. Not in Darfur, not in Rwanda, not in Bosnia, not anywhere. The whole bloody history of the world has happened on my watch.

I am tired of being on watch. I am tired of bearing witness to the terrifying stories of survivors after the fact. I am tired of having no effect whatsoever on the bloodiest evils of mankind.

The people of Darfur are in the midst of genocide today, and the situation is about to get much, much worse. "Peacekeepers" from the African Union have been on watch, bearing witness; but their mandate is over and they are about to leave. Unless the United Nations can be persuaded to send peacekeeping troops to the area over the objections of the genocidal Sudanese government, the people of Darfur will be abandoned to their fate without even a witness to their passage into the most hellish of oblivions. You can read a detailed analysis of the current situation here. You can guess even without reading a detailed analysis what the likelihood is that United Nations troops will be in place -- over the objections of the Sudanese government, China, Russia, and the Arab nations -- in time to prevent more large-scale killing. You can probably even guess this:
Ninth, the United States invited the security chief of the regime to CIA headquarters in Virginia, thus cementing the relationship with a man believed to be the architect of the ethnic-cleansing campaign in Darfur. This tells Khartoum that as long as they are "with us" in the war on terror, they can continue to pursue what the U.S. president himself has labeled genocide in Darfur.
("U.S.'s deadly errors in Darfur," John Predergast in The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

I can't persuade President Bush to rethink his own bloody policies, much less convince him to allow intervention in someone else's. People are dying in Darfur as you read this, and will continue to die regardless of how many of us sit on "watch" to their murder.

But still. This is my pebble that I am rolling uphill though the slope stretches on seemingly forever and I never get any closer to the top. This is my small weight thrown against the forces of genocide. It will almost certainly do nothing to help the victims as they call out in their suffering. But I cannot put this pebble down. If I do, I will be putting my own humanity down with it.

So today I will make one phone call. I will write one letter. I will add my voice. I will send my dollars. It is nothing; and it is all I can do.

Because the Pirke Avot says, "It is not your duty to complete the work; neither are you free to desist from it."

Again and again.

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