Courier News - Somerville, NJ
Saving Darfur, One Voice At A Time
By MARY ANN D'URSO, Courier News Online Staff Writer
May 1, 2006
SOMERVILLE -- The few hundred people standing on the Somerset County Courthouse lawn were but a microcosm of the thousands across the nation Sunday who rallied to protest the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
The local rally was one of several nationwide, including one in Washington, D.C., that attracted everyday citizens, politicians, clergy and celebrities.
Interfaith leaders and Sudanese activists were among the speakers addressing the Somerville crowd, trying to raise awareness about the crisis in Darfur in which Arab militia, backed by the government, are raiding villages, killing civilians and taking the land of black tribal Africans who are farmers.
"If I was not here, I would be just one of them. God sent me here to be a voice for the voiceless people," said Theil Theil, who left southern Sudan in 1998, lives in North Plainfield with his wife and is a student at Rutgers University.
Theil, one of the speakers, said he left his country because of raids and mass killings in the Sudan.
"Without notice, the government raids a village. People just run in all different directions," said Theil, explaining how families are often separated.
Describing the current bleak circumstances for Darfurians, Theil said, "They are weak. They have nothing to eat. They drink dirty water. They have no homes. It's really bad. Their hope is only for the outside world to help."
Through torture, rape and murder, the Janjaweed, the Sudanese government-backed militia, has murdered from 300,000 to 500,000 civilians in Darfur, according to estimates from organizations monitoring the situation. About 2.5 million people have been displaced from Darfur in western Sudan, many seeking refuge in neighboring Chad. The U.N. World Food Program said Friday that it was cutting rations in half, citing a lack of funds.
As with people at the Washington, D.C. rally, local residents also urged the Bush administration to use its political muscle to help end the genocide.
"Mr. President, our humanity is at stake. Your humanity is at stake. You made a promise -- 'Not on my watch' -- now we implore you, keep that promise," said Rabbi Arnie Gluck of Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough, a primary sponsor of the rally. "Do not wait. Do not delay. Lives are at stake."
Shuey Horowitz, another organizer from Temple Beth-El, asked, "What are we about as a society if we don't start trying to use whatever influence, wealth or connection we have to try and stop these nightmares?"
At Somerville's rally, organizers and volunteers distributed fact sheets about Darfur and prewritten postcards for people to sign, which would be sent to President Bush.
"Our religious communities have to take the initiative," said Susan Strober, the social action chairperson of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Somerset Hills in Somerville. "They're places where morals are taught very often. People come together in groups. We can unite and actually do something."
Basking Ridge residents Nadine Petronko-Lin and her husband, Mike Lin, said they wanted to go the rally in Washington, but thought better of it when they realized Somerville was holding a rally and they could support local people. "We can really do something to stop this," she said. "I'm frustrated with the U.N. and U.S. as well because it's Rwanda all over again."
"President Bush has no political capital with which to act. He's going to have to be forced to do something," said Peter Tatiner of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards, who suggested that instead of troops, the U.S. could provide logistical support and satelite technology to help countries providing aid. "So the rallies, phone calls, e-mails and postcards to representatives and senators are going to be absolutely vital. It's necessary to turn the heat up just as high as it can go."
Speaker Daowd Salih, an emigree from western Darfur, thanked the crowd for listening to the pleas for help. "The people in the desert cannot express themselves. Their hope's on you. Their hope is on people around the world. Help us to stop the genocide. Help us to stop the rapes of our women. Help us to bring peace of Darfur. Help us to help us," said Salih, whose comments brought cheers from the crowd.
Rabbi Sally Priesand listened as Salih and others told of the horrors of the genocide. "We can't be silent today. The day will come when our grandchildren will ask us, 'What did you do?'," said Priesand, the first female rabbi in the United States, who came from Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls.
The rally was co-sponsored by Temple Beth-El in Hillsborough; St. Martin's Church in Bridgewater; The Social Justice Club of Raritan Valley Community College; Somerset Voices for Peace and Justice; and members of the Somerset Area Ministerial Alliance.