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Rabbi Steve Gutow Headshot

Why I Was Arrested -- Again

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I was arrested for a second time in just a few years because of the atrocities being committed in Sudan. Why? The atrocities did not stop because of my arrest. President Omar al-Bashir, indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, was not sent packing from his hideout in Khartoum.

Then, why? Easy: I am not able to do less.

Across Sudan, millions suffer without relief, and I am called by a power greater than I can even imagine to lend some measure of myself to their cause.

Remember the massive displacement, killings and rapes in Darfur just a few years ago by followers, often paid, of the present Sudanese regime? Khartoum is at it again. Darfur's plight has expanded to areas many have not yet heard of such as the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Displacement is again the order of the day with over 500,000 civilians forced from their homes in 2011 alone. A New York Times article several days ago mentioned a new weapon in the conflict -- rockets used by the Sudanese government that hit suddenly and indiscriminately in the Nuban Mountains killing innocents and children.

Even more concerning, famine and hunger are only weeks or months away. The prognosis of the excellent Famine Early Warning System Network funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which monitors hunger around the globe, suggests that many parts of these provinces will soon be close to a state of famine.

So why was I arrested? It is obvious. Because I cannot stand idly by. On Friday, as part of a protest organized by United to End Genocide, I stood with other religious, political and humanitarian leaders to decry this crisis and call on the U.S. to ensure access to humanitarian aid.

In January my organization, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), partnered with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) to send two letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one signed by 15 of the top faith leaders in the United States and another signed by more than 350 rabbis. We delivered the letters in person to White House officials Samantha Power and Grant Harris.

In those letters, in my jailing, in the fast and demonstrations that others are doing, we are asking our government to walk the same walk that any humane nation ought to walk. America must do all it can to make sure that there is full and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations to the areas of Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur. Starvation cannot be used as a weapon of war. We may not finish the work but as the Talmud, Judaism's basic text for law and practice says, we are not free to desist from trying.

Two great principles of Jewish theology impelled me to put myself in this state of incarceration: one, the fundamental belief directly from Genesis that all humans are made in the image of God and must be treated as we would treat God and the other, also first mentioned in Genesis, is when God decides that Abraham must be a partner in the pursuit of justice. At that time, Abraham's concerns about God's decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah causes God to look more deeply at the situation. That decision is debated by Abraham's impassioned insistence that God not destroy those people unless it was unmistakably clear that evil was pervasive in the towns. From that moment we became aware that God wanted us to be a partner when it came to pursuing justice. I saw myself as I went to jail, as I sat in the cell, as a follower of Abraham. I do this not because I think that this is the panacea to the end of the horror in Sudan but because, as a believer in divine justice, I also believe that humanity must play a role in bringing that justice to bear. We can only hope that our government hears our plea.