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Taking action in Darfur

by: Leslie Bunder - Last updated: 2007-05-22

The JCC Darfur evening

The JCC Darfur evening: pic Blake-Ezra Cole

UK Jews have been told they should not to be "bystanders but upstanders" in raising awareness of the crisis that is happening in the Darfur region of Sudan which has seen 400,000 people killed and millions displaced in an internal conflict.

Speaking at an event organised by the Jewish Community Centre for London and The Pears Foundation at north west London's Hampstead Theatre, Ruth Messinger, president of the American World Jewish Service spoke of her own personal visit to the area.

"In six camps with seven translators some 40 people volunteered their stories.  What was most chilling is how similar the stories were," said the former mayor candidate for New York. "First, the planes came and bombed my village and killed my cousin, my neighbour, some children.  Then the Janjaweed rode in yelling ethnic slogans, brandishing knives and guns.  They raped and branded women in front of their husbands.  They killed men and boys in front of their families.  They slaughtered children and livestock and stuffed their bodies in the wells to poison the water supply."

As well as Messinger, the event saw a number of other panelists giving their thoughts and views.

"Why did apparently good people do nothing?  There were eight excuses: cyncism, denial, prevarication, caution, distraction, buck-passing, evasion and finally helplessness," said Dr Mukesh Kapila, former head of the UN in Sudan.

Among those in the audience were Lord Winston and Baroness Neuberger who said they plan to jointly raise the issue in Parliament of the need to take action in Darfur.

"While Ruth's stories are, on one level, deeply depressing, her message is ultimately one of hope," said Nick Viner, chief executive of the JCC for London. "There are concrete things each of us can do.  We must not sit back; we should not leave it to somebody else. "I hope this event will provide a wake up call to our community."