On behalf of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing over 1,800 Rabbis, 875 synagogues, and 1.5 million Reform Jews across North America, we are writing to express our concern and dismay at the recent massacres in East Timor. We support your declaration for an international peacekeeping force to begin operating in East Timor immediately.
We are particularly disturbed with the horrific violence that has erupted in the area after the majority of East Timors 800,000 residents voted for independence in a U.N.-sponsored referendum on August 30th. Each day brings shocking accounts of massacres, including destruction that has left the East Timorese capital, Dili, a smoldering ruin and has created hundreds of thousands of refugees. There have also been repeated and consistent reports of orchestrated killings by the militias, particularly of Roman Catholic priests and nuns seen as independence supporters. As Americans, and as people of faith, we cannot remain silent.
We urge you to back the speedy deployment of the international peacekeeping force, headed by the Australians, to support the UN in taking control of security in East Timor. This effort would allow the UN to take immediate steps to disarm all factions and restore law and order; to protect the right of all sectors of the population to full participation in the political life of the country in a free and democratic environment; to provide guarantees for the safety and security of all the people in East Timor and put an end to the present killing and destruction in the territory. In the interim, the United States must demand immediate access by humanitarian and relief agencies to internal refugees and refugees forcibly displaced from East Timor and support emergency airlifts of food and medical supplies. We must, urgently, identify the most effective American response. This is not a time to be ruling options "out."
It is imperative that we not become numb to the pain and suffering of others and turn our backs to those who need our help. The Torah admonishes us that we cannot "sit idly by the blood of our neighbors" (Leviticus 19:16). History is replete with examples of the suffering that occurs when the world turns its back on evil. Let us, please, not allow that to happen here.