- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2005

Sometimes all you need to do to let somebody know you care is send a letter, a fax, an e-mail or make a short phone call. Occasionally, more drastic action is imperative.

“People are dying, it’s that simple. These are crimes against people, and we can do something about this,” said Yvonne Paretzky about the deliberate massacre and mass starvation of thousands of innocent men, women and children in western Sudan’s Darfur region.

Mrs. Paretzky was so moved by the genocidal atrocities in Darfur that she joined Ruth Newburger and Gail Fisher to stage “An Interfaith Evening of Information, Inspiration and Action” at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac on Sunday night.

Nearly 200 people spent two hours participating in a poignant program aimed to “see, hear and take action” to save thousands clear across the globe.

“I saw the connection between genocide in Sudan and genocide in the Holocaust, and we are watching and doing nothing while thousands are being killed,” said Molly Hauck, who plans to get the Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethesda, of which she is a member, to host a similar awareness-raising program.

Hundreds of thousands have been killed in Darfur and thousands more are at risk in this “calculated campaign of slaughter, rape and displacement,” Rabbi H. David Rose of Congregation Har Shalom said.

Meanwhile, U.S. and world leaders delay and debate the term “genocide.” But the need is urgent to enact and enforce harsher sanctions against the rebel Janjaweed militia and the Sudanese government to prevent and punish further violation of the 1948 U.N. convention against deliberate acts “committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Most unthinkable, the Sudanese government will not let water, food and medical supplies pass through to villages and refugee camps. Humanitarian aid workers are among those who have been killed as 1.6 million people have been chased into the desert.

Sunday’s audience learned of women, even girls as young as 8 and grandmothers as old as 60, being raped, their breasts branded and some left to bleed to death. Men are self-imprisoned in refugee camps lest they be tortured and killed. Young boys, the ones not abducted to become soldiers, are thrown on bonfires.

Darfur exile and lobbyist Omer Ismail spoke softly of witnessing burned-out villages where he once heard Sudanese folk songs on Sundays. He told of children who dig holes in the sand during the day so they can sleep in them at night to stay warm because they have no blankets and “no mothers to hold them.”

“The thousands of faceless, nameless people are reaching out, pleading for the humanity in you. They want to know somebody cares,” said Mr. Ismail, who now resides in Silver Spring.

Go see “Hotel Rwanda,” which shows a slice of the genocidal killings of 800,000 there. Then you’ll understand the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette political cartoon depicting a couple leaving the theater where the movie is on the marquee. “When do you think the movie ‘Hotel Sudan’ will be released?” the woman asks. In fact, “Hotel Darfur,” with the “Not on My Watch” slogan, is a grass-roots effort undertaken by the brilliant but underrated actor Don Cheadle and Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager he portrayed in “Rwanda.” Volunteers pass out informational fliers and ask moviegoers to sign petitions urging immediate, increased U.S. intervention.

Mr. Ismail wonders why world leaders, who rallied to save Eastern Europeans in the Balkans, do not come to defend Africans in Darfur. Still, he is bolstered by the grass-roots efforts such as the informative service at Congregation Har Shalom on Sunday night. He happily notes that a movement is growing on college campuses, where he is a sought-after speaker. Today, for example, Georgetown students, members of nationwide Students Taking Action Now for Darfur (STAND), are scheduled to begin lobbying on Capitol Hill.

Ideas on how to help were offered by David Rubenstein, coordinator of the D.C.-based Save Darfur Coalition, www.savedarfur.org., an alliance of 100 organizations spearheaded, in part, by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Mr. Rubenstein said: “I believe President Bush cares, I believe the State Department cares. … I just don’t believe they care enough. And, they don’t care enough because they don’t think the American public cares enough.”

From March 17 to 20, the Save Darfur Coalition is sponsoring the 100 Hours to Campaign for Darfur, designed to send letters to the White House and 100 to each member of Congress. They are asking groups and individuals to host teach-ins and action meetings.

Tears were shed during the “Lights for Life” ceremony to extinguish 100 candles commemorating the lives of 35,000 deceased Darfurians. The Shofar, a ram’s horn that was used in ancient Israel as a call to action when help was needed from neighboring villagers, was blown.

“Please hear the call in your hearts, your heads, and most of all, with your hands,” Mr. Rose said in closing.

For more information, log on to www.savedarfur.org; the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers at www.child-soldiers.org; and www.rwandapartners.org.

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