The HyperTexts

Bloodshed in the Sahara: the Sins of Colonialism and the Plight of the Sahrawi
(including Sahrawi Genocide Poetry)

compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch, an editor
and publisher of Holocaust and Nakba poetry

Epitaph for a Sahrawi Child (I)
by Michael R. Burch

I was only a child
in the Saharan wild.

What matter — my death
as long as you draw breath?

Forget me — I die.
Never ask yourselves, Why?

Epitaph for a Sahrawi Child (II)
by Michael R. Burch

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

Should it matter to the world that yet another indigenous people is being trodden underfoot by colonialists? This time the people being denied equal human rights and self-determination are the Sahrawis, the descendents of Western Sahara nomads. The Arabic word Sahrāwī literally means "of the Sahara." There are various transliterations of the word:

English: Saharaui, Saharaoui, Sahrawi or Saharawi
French: Sahraoui, Saharaui
Italian: Saharawi,Saharaui
Portuguese: Saaráuis, Sarianos, Saarianos
Spanish: Saharaui (saharauita)

In order to understand the situation of the nameless Sahrawi child of my poems, we need to understand what is happening to them today, and the root causes of the catastrophe. Pertinent questions include:

Why are Morocco and France blocking attempts to have the UN monitor human rights abuses of innocent Sahrawis and peace activists?
Doesn't this imply that there is something to be hidden: i.e., human rights abuses?
Why did Morocco expel all foreign journalists before conducting what has been called a massacre?
Is it because they didn't want the world to see what they planned to do?
Why is the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon conducting hearings about genocide, murder and torture committed by Morocco since 1975?
Why is the United States once again silent when one of its "allies" practices systematic racial injustices?
Why did Morocco imprison and allegedly torture Aminatou Ali Ahmed Haidar, the Sahrawi Gandhi?
Should the U.S. have "allies" who imprison and torture women for demanding human rights for their people?
Why did the King of Morocco build a 2,700 km separation barrier on the advice of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?
Why are there so many strong, disturbing parallels between what is happening to the Palestinians and the Sahrawi?
Are we once again seeing what happens when colonial empires trample the human rights of indigenous peoples?
Why has the U.S. media not reported these events? Is there a cover-up, or only unconscionable apathy?

"Genocide" and "massacre" are strong words, which have been used recently in relation to events that took place in Laayoune over a period of several days in November, 2010. First, let's consider different press releases to determine whether or not a massacre took place. Here is an article that appeared in the New York Times on December 9, 2010, on page A6 of the New York edition:

Desert Land in Limbo Is Torn Apart
by Bryan Denton

LAAYOUNE, Western Sahara — Dozens of buildings are still blackened from fire on this remote desert city’s main boulevard, their windows shattered, their doors boarded up. A hostile silence has reigned since the riot that broke out here last month, leaving 11 Moroccan officers dead and hundreds of people injured.

Laayoune is a modern city of 300,000 with its own airport. The violence — the worst seen here in decades — has renewed a long-festering conflict between Morocco, which governs Western Sahara, and the separatist Polisario Front, based in and supported by neighboring Algeria.

Many fear the episode will sow more chaos in this Colorado-size territory on the Atlantic coast, or even create an opening for Al Qaeda, which has gained a foothold in neighboring countries in northwest Africa in recent years.

“There are real social tensions in Laayoune, but they are being fueled by the cold war between Morocco and Algeria,” said Tlaty Tarik, a political analyst. “This situation is becoming more dangerous, because of the violence and because Al Qaeda is now present in the region.”

The riot began after the police evacuated a protest camp set up just outside this city by Sahrawis, the once nomadic native people of the area, who are now outnumbered by wealthier Moroccan emigrants from the north. Knife-wielding thugs — who may have had a political agenda — appear to have hijacked the peaceful protest. The security forces later retaliated, detaining and beating dozens of Sahrawis, according to witnesses and a report by Human Rights Watch.

Ever since, divisions appear to have deepened, both among the Sahrawis themselves, and with Moroccans living in this newly built city of tidy houses.

“After what happened, nothing feels normal, and people don’t feel safe here,” said a 25-year-old Sahrawi man named Laghdaf, who was sitting on the steps of a half-built cinder-block house recently. Some Sahrawis blame members of their own community, he said. Others say the Moroccan state has treated them unjustly.

The unrest has spread beyond Western Sahara. On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Moroccans rallied in Casablanca, denouncing Spanish political parties and newspapers that had accused Morocco of carrying out a massacre in Laayoune.

A fog of rumors and propaganda has helped obscure the facts about what happened here last month. The Polisario Front still maintains that the Moroccan authorities carried out a massacre after evacuating the camp, where about 12,000 people had gathered to protest social and economic conditions. “More than 30 people were killed,” some of them buried alive, Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario representative at the United Nations, said in a telephone interview. Similar stories have appeared in the Algerian press.

The truth, it soon emerged, was virtually the opposite: knife-wielding gangs from the camp attacked unarmed Moroccan security officers, killing 11 of them, according to the police, witnesses and human rights advocates. Gruesome video footage captured during the attacks shows one masked man deftly cutting the throat of a prone Moroccan officer, and another urinating on the body of a dead fireman.

The savage and premeditated style of the killings prompted speculation that Qaeda-style militants might have been involved, but there is no evidence of that. Two or three civilians died, by most accounts, in what appeared to have been accidents. All told, 238 officers were injured, said Mohamed Dkhissi, the city’s police prefect.

“We had to choose: a muscular intervention that risked mass casualties, or not to use force,” said Mohamed Jelmous, the governor of the Laayoune district.

But the arrests and beatings that took place afterward could spread more anger among young Sahrawis, rights groups say.

Moroccan officials concede that the tensions here are rooted partly in their own mistakes. They have doled out land and money to new Sahrawi refugees from Polisario-controlled areas, a policy aimed at winning hearts and minds that has angered the original Sahrawi residents. “There has been corruption and poor administration, and this has fed the anger,” said Mohamed Taleb, the director of a government-aligned human rights group here.

The problem is also partly a colonial legacy. Morocco first occupied Western Sahara in 1975, after the Spanish, who had ruled it as a colony for almost a century, withdrew. The Polisario, formed with Algerian support, demanded independence for the region. It began waging a guerrilla war and lobbied other countries to recognize a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic with Laayoune as its capital. It had some success (mostly among African nations), though the number of supporters waxed and waned according to political expediency.

The United Nations helped broker a cease-fire in 1991, with the agreement that a referendum would be held to decide whether Western Sahara would be independent or remain part of Morocco. That has not happened, because Morocco and the Polisario cannot agree on who should be allowed to take part.

In the meantime, Morocco has poured money into Laayoune, making the debate over independence almost an anachronism. What was once a Spanish fort and a cluster of tents is now a modern city of 300,000, a profitable hub for fishing and phosphate mining with its own airport. Sahrawis now constitute less than 40 percent of the population. Independence would in all likelihood turn Laayoune into an Algerian satellite. Moroccans in the north, who are keenly aware of the money their government has spent here, say that prospect is intolerable.

In 2007, Morocco proposed that Western Sahara be granted autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, an idea that found favor with the United States and France. Many Sahrawis seem to like the idea. Earlier this year, the former security chief of the Polisario, Mustapha Salma, who went to Laayoune under a program of exchange visits, publicly declared his support for the autonomy proposal. But the Polisario has held firm to its demands for independence. When Mr. Salma returned to the Polisario’s base in Algeria, he was arrested. He then disappeared, and is now reported to be in Mauritania.

Diplomacy aside, some Sahrawis say they have never been truly accepted by the Moroccan authorities, and feel that they are living under an occupation, even if they believe independence is not a viable option. Joblessness among young Sahrawis, many say, is a cause of the violence.

“All Sahrawis live in fear,” said Ghania Djeini, the director of a human rights group. “There is now a hatred between Moroccans and Sahrawis, and the attacks on security forces show this hatred.”

Ms. Djeini reeled off grievances like job discrimination, government corruption and “disappearances” that took place in the 1980s and 90s. These disappearances happened throughout Morocco during those years, not just in the Sahrawi area.

Since the events of Nov. 8, many Moroccans here have fresh grievances of their own. The bad blood does not bode well for Western Sahara’s future.

“What Algeria did is not right,” said Abderrahim Bougatya, the father of the officer whose throat was cut last month, as he sat next to his wife in the family living room, tears running down his cheeks. “They have burned our hearts. They have hurt us a lot.”

[While the New York Times article makes it seem the Moroccan police did not set out with the intention of committing genocide or massacring innocent civilians, there are troubling questions. For instance, why were journalists expelled from the region? Why are people on the ground claiming that the Moroccan forces ended up using what sounds like Gestapo tactics? Doesn't the one normally precede the other, because if a state is planning to use Gestapo tactics, it certainly doesn't want anyone filming and recording the evidence. Let's take a look at what other people have reported. The next report comes from an aid worker; her report makes it sound as though, even if the initial violence was instigated by aggressors who infiltrated a peaceful demonstration, the Moroccan government may have planned to use extreme measures because it evicted foreign journalists before using devastating force. So even if the initial plan was to use peaceful methods if they worked, it seems quite possible that "Plan B" was to crush any opposition.]

Urgent—Saharawi Massacre in Western Sahara
Published November 16, 2010

Spain, Morocco, a displaced people and the UN are mixing it up tragically in an unfolding travesty that’s receiving scarce media attention due to journalist expulsions* ... this just crossed my desk from an aid worker who’s on the ground. Please read ... pray ... forward this on ... and consider how we might take action:

*Update: This human rights abuse does seem to be getting at least some media attention.

Hello ... I am in the camps right now, where we have a large team on the ground. We are in the midst of a never-before experience here. Please read the following message and consider passing it on to anyone who might be able to help ... either through prayer or in a practical way.

Thank you! Janet

URGENT ... URGENT ... URGENT ... URGENT ... URGENT ... Nov. 10, 2010

This is an urgent plea on behalf of the Saharawi people. At this moment in time, the situation has become explosive. We, American citizens, are in the Saharawi refugee camps, watching a nightmare unfold before our very eyes. Tens of thousands of Saharawi were amassing in a peaceful demonstration “camp” outside their former capital city of Layoune, Western Sahara. Morocco, the occupying government since 1975, expelled all journalists and news media last week, cutting the homeland off from any outside witnesses.

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010 ... Moroccan forces surrounded the peaceful, unarmed protest “camp” and began a crackdown; in the early morning hours they began burning tents, beating women and children, spraying the Saharawi with tear gas and hot water, and then turned to the use of live ammunition. [Note: I have seen videos which make it appear that some of the protestors were armed with knives, and used gasoline to create incendiary devices, so it seems possible that the police started off using nonviolent or less violent tactics, encountered resistance, then resorted to more violent tactics themselves. The New York Times article above seems to roughly confirm what I saw in footage shot from a helicopter with a clear view of the event. However, if Morocco has been practicing systematic racial injustices and jailing and torturing human rights and peace activists, it should expect to encounter resistance and shouldn't "bring down the hammer" on oppressed people collectively.]

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010 ... The President of the Saharawi people announced to the population that they are being asked to show restraint and continue to hold to peaceful actions, as they have done since 1991.

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010 ... Negotiations which were scheduled to be held between Morocco and the Saharawi were encouraged to continue by the Saharawi President, even though his people were under Morocco’s attack. The Saharawi negotiations representatives returned to the table, but finding a continued, entrenched stand by Morocco, negotiations ended.

Wednesday, Nov. 10 ... Our American team is living amongst a people in the refugee camps who are receiving phone calls from their family members in the homeland, hearing the terror in their voices as they describe the brutality they are experiencing at the hands of Moroccan troops, pleading for help. Men and women are being beaten, youth are being physically taken from their homes, bodies are decaying in the street because the Saharawi cannot get out to bury them. There are a growing number of toddlers found wandering around, unable to express what has happened to them, and their parents’ whereabouts are unknown. Today, 150 Saharawi are missing, 11 dead, and over 700 injured. [From what I can gather, the first 11 people to die were Moroccan police officers; it seems likely that the violence escalated as the Moroccan police tried to identify and arrest the men who had killed their fellow officers. There are pictures of men stoning the corpses of dead officers and urinating on them. While I can understand the anger the police must have felt, I cannot ignore the fact that the injustices suffered by the Saharawi helped create the conflict.]

Wednesday, Nov. 10 ... Frustration, anger and rage have pushed the Saharawi in the camps to their own breaking point of patience for any justice. They cannot bear doing nothing, knowing their families are living in horror. The governments’ plea for further patience may not be able to restrain the anger that has built inside this peaceful people since they were forced from their homes in 1975. As Believers in the God Who Sees and the God of Justice and Mercy, we are asking you to urgently take action to bring this story to the awareness of the United States.

Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010 ... Here is an update Janet wrote just before leaving Saturday night on what we know about the Saharawi: Situation ... URGENT ... URGENT ... Events are escalating in the Saharawi refugee camps. Each day there have been more and more reports coming into families in the camps via cell phone communication from the occupied homeland families. Some of that information is as follow:

No known journalists remain in the area.

37 identified bodies discovered in a mass grave near the now-destroyed protest camp outside Layoune. Many more bodies remain in the streets, unable to be identified by families due to their inability to come out of hiding.

Over 4000 have been injured.

Frantic messages from terrorized family members in Layoune continue to pour into the camps via cell phone contact with their families, often from women pleading for help from the refugee population. Screams and crying have been replayed on the radio station throughout the camps. The effect on the refugees is wrenching.

Eye-witnesses in the area outside Layoune report seeing Moroccan helicopters dropping bodies into the sea, clothed in the traditional blue robes of the Saharawi.

Moroccan civilians clothed as Saharawi have been armed by Morocco with pistols and knives, and encouraged to attack and kill Saharawi civilians, who remain unarmed. This has heightened the terror of the already-panicked Saharawi, now unable to easily identify who might be a dangerous person.

The number of dead continues to mount, including very young children and the elderly.

The number of disappeared individuals is over 2000. Most of the dead who can be identified are those on the list of disappeared.

More than 2000 were arrested.

Last night 6 were judged in court, one of them a young man who had visited the refugee camps in the past year.

In the refugee camps: Today, Saturday, Nov. 13, larger and growing demonstrations are taking place, mainly by young men, demanding to go to war against Morocco. They are completely disillusioned toward any peaceful means after growing up in the past 20 years of cease fire, during which no progress has been made to give the Saharawi their chance for a referendum. They want to stop the killing of their family members on the other side of the land-mined berm and to have their country's freedom from Morocco’s cruel oppression. The sounds of caravans of cars and trucks filled with shouting young people have filled roadways as they travel camp to camp, adding more and more cars of young people to their protest. This has been going on the past 3 nights, and all day today.

The Saharawi President announced to the UN that if there is no significant action taken by the UN or the world community by this coming Tuesday, he cannot be responsible for what may happen as his people approach the brink of taking matters into their own hands against Morocco. Nov. 14 marks the anniversary in 1975 of the agreement made between Morocco, Mauritania and Spain to take control of Western Sahara, dividing it and its resources between the three countries. At that time, Western Sahara had been fighting to gain its independence from Spain, under which the Saharawi homeland had been colonized since the 1800s. This further deepens the wounds of the Saharawi people, who have chosen to pursue peace until a resolution could come through the UN’s promise of a referendum.

[The situation sounds very similar to that of Palestinians who live under the thumb of Israel. People who are constantly denied equal rights and self determination are not going to be happy. When the people in power respond with crushing force, things just get worse. Those of us who advocate equal rights for everyone have to understand that large-scale, systematic injustices inevitably lead to large-scale violence on both sides of a conflict.]

Algerian News

CANARY ISLANDS (Spain)—Spanish activist Isabel Terraza and Mexican activist Antonio Velazquez reported their testimonies on the "genocide" to which Sahrawi civilians in Gdem Izik camp by the Moroccan forces, the Sahrawi news agency (SPS) reported. The Spanish daily "El Periodico" published Thursday testimonies of the Spanish activist in which she confirmed that it "was difficult for us to see the Sahrawis massacred while the Spanish government is careless," noting that she remained hidden several days in a house "where we heard inhabitants crying and yelling while being kidnapped and houses searched." "I have seen an ambulance full of corpses," she affirmed while presenting a video as proof.  

Afrol News
(also reported Novembre 11th, 2010 by Free Italian Press)
"Massacre" and purges ongoing in Western Sahara

10 November—At least 11 Sahrawis have been shot dead by Moroccan troops storming a camp of protesters. Sahrawi sources talk of 36 civilians being shot. Moroccan troops keep raiding Western Sahara cities, arresting young Sahrawi men.

Around 20,000 Sahrawis—the original inhabitants of the Moroccan-occupied territory Western Sahara—for weeks had camped outside the territory's main cities to protest the Moroccan occupation and systematic human rights abuses. Moroccan troops reacted by cutting off supplies of food and water to the tent cities.

Since Monday, however, Moroccan armed security forces have attacked the protesters, raiding the camps using real ammunition, tear-gas and high-pressure water cannons. Sahrawis resisting the destruction of their tent cities were shot at.

Hundreds of protesters reportedly have been arrested by the Moroccan army and riot police, many of which have been taken to Moroccan territory, according to Sahrawi sources. The same sources claim police are using torture interrogating the detained Sahrawis.

Many of the Sahrawi protesters fleeing the Moroccan attack on their camps however continued their riot in the towns of Western Sahara. Especially the capital, El Aaiun, since Tuesday has been embattled. Protesters are setting up road blocks, igniting fires and throwing stones at the police.

Moroccan troops and riot police have flocked to the occupied territory, answering the protests with gunfire. According to sources in El Aaiun, the death toll is steadily rising. They claim to have counted 28 dead bodies only around the tent site outside El Aaiun, among them a 7-year-old boy, with 8 more Sahrawis having been killed in the following riots in the city of El Aaiun.

Official Moroccan sources meanwhile claim that six members of national security forces have been killed by the rioters.

Sahrawis in El Aaiun meanwhile report to Afrol News that Moroccan troops are going from house to house in the city, detaining every young Sahrawi man they can find. "The police and gendarmes are looking for young Sahrawis in general. Additionally, they have a list of activists they want to arrest," the source said. Human rights activists were among those arrested.

Another source in El Aaiun reports large Moroccan troop concentrations in the Sahrawi capital. Helicopters were constantly in the air, assisting the military and police operations.

The exiled government of Western Sahara has urged the UN, which has a peacekeeping mission (MINURSO) stationed in the territory, to act against the violent repression of the Sahrawi riot. The Sahrawi government fears that Morocco will use the riot as a pretext to kill or detain large numbers of Sahrawis opposing the Moroccan occupation.

The Sahrawis are calling on the UN Mission to at least monitor and register human rights violations during the riot. But MINURSO remains the only peacekeeping mission without a mandate to monitor human rights. Whilst the Sahrawis have repeatedly called for human rights monitoring, Morocco opposes this. Previous attempts to implement human rights monitoring within the UN Security Council were blocked by France. [Why are France and Morocco blocking attempts to monitor human rights abuses?]

Meanwhile, the "massacre" of Sahrawis by Moroccan troops has caused world-wide protests. Pro-Sahrawi groups are in the process of organising protest marches. Human rights groups demand an end to the Moroccan operation.

The current clashes in Western Sahara are the most violent since a ceasefire between Morocco and the Sahrawi government was agreed upon in 1991. The ceasefire was to lead to a referendum over Western Sahara's possible independence and the stationing of MINURSO to overseen the ceasefire and referendum.

Algerian News

November 8 massacre marks last moments of Moroccan occupation, says Sahrawi president Bir Lahlou (Western Sahara). Mohamed Abdelaziz, President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Secretary General of the Polisario Front, said "the massacre committed on November 8 by the Moroccan occupation against the Saharawi people marks the last moments of the Moroccan occupation." In a message to the population of El Ayun busy on the occasion of the celebration of Eid El Adha, the Saharawi President stressed that the latest Moroccan attack "shows all the features of historical events that make a difference in peoples' struggle for freedom and liberation," the Sahrawi Press Agency SPS reported Tuesday. President Abdelaziz added that the massacre of November 8 paved the way for "relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing, lawless arrests, mass abductions and torture of Sahrawi civilians, out of sight of observers, the independent press and international organizations which, in turn, have not been spared the humiliation of Moroccan occupation in Moroccan airports." [The fact that Morocco expelled journalists and has been blocking attempts to monitor human rights abuses makes it seem Abdelaziz has a case. When I factor in other things, such as Morocco jailing and allegedly torturing female human rights activists, it's difficult not to conclude that Morocco has helped create a lot of misery for both sides.]

Background Facts, Drawn from Wikipedia and Other Sources

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a partially recognized state that claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. SADR was proclaimed by the Polisario Front on February 27, 1976 in Bir Lehlu, Western Sahara. The SADR government currently controls about 20-25% of the territory it claims. It calls the territories under its control the Liberated Territories or the Free Zone. Morocco controls and administers the rest of the disputed territory and calls these lands its Southern Provinces. The SADR government considers the Moroccan-held territory occupied territory, while Morocco considers the much smaller SADR held territory to be a buffer zone.

Mohamed Abdelaziz comes from a Sahrawi Bedouin family which belongs to an eastern Reguibat subtribe that historically migrated between Western Sahara, Mauritania, western Algeria and southern Morocco. As a student in Moroccan universities in the 1970s, he gravitated towards Sahrawi nationalism, and became one of the founding members of the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi independence movement in Western Sahara which launched an armed struggle against Spanish colonialism in 1973. Since 1976 he has been Secretary-General of the organization, replacing Mahfoud Ali Beiba, who had taken the post as interim Secretary-General after El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed was killed in action in Mauritania. Since that time he has also been the president of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), whose first constitution he was involved in drafting. He lives in exile in the Sahrawi refugee camps in the Tindouf Province of western Algeria. His brother is Mohamed Lahbib Erguibi, a lawyer for many Sahrawi human rights defenders such as Aminatou Haidar or Naama Asfari (the former "disappeared" in Moroccan prisons between 1976 and 1991).

Abdelazizis considered a secular nationalist and has steered the Polisario and the Sahrawi republic towards political compromise, notably in backing the United Nations' Baker Plan in 2003. Under his leadership, Polisario also abandoned its early Arab socialist orientation, in favor of a Western Sahara organized along liberal democratic lines, including expressly committing it to multi-party democracy and a market economy. He has consistently sought backing from Western states, notably the European Union and the United States of America, but so far with little success.

The Organization of African Unity seated Western Sahara for the first time in 1982, despite Morocco's vehement objections. In 1985, Abdelaziz was elected vice president of the OAU at its 21st summit, effectively signalling that Western Sahara would be a permanent OAU member in spite of the controversy. In 2002, he was elected vice president of the African Union, at its first summit.

There is some criticism against him from within the Polisario for preventing reforms inside the movement, and for insisting on a diplomatic course that has so far gained few concessions from Morocco, rather than re-launching the armed struggle favored by many within the movement. The most prominent of these opposition groups is the Polisario Front Khat al-Shahid, which states that it wants to restore the legacy of his predecessor, El Ouali.

Abdelaziz has condemned terrorism, insisting the Polisario's guerrilla war is to be a "clean struggle" (that is, not targeting private citizens' safety or property). He sent formal condolences to the afflicted governments after the terrorist attacks in New York City, Madrid, London, Kampala and notably also to the Moroccan kingdom after the al-Qaida strikes in Casablanca. Also, as head of the SADR, he has signed the OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism at the 36th summit in Algiers, the Dakar Declaration against Terrorism, and the additional Protocol to the previous OAU's Convention on Terrorism at the 3rd session of the Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa.

In 2001, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In December 2005, as leader of the Polisario Front, he receive the Human Rights International Prize, given by the Spanish Pro-Human Rights Association.

Oral History in the Palestinian and Sahrawi Contexts: A Comparative Approach [1]
by Randa Farah

Notwithstanding the specific features of the Palestinian case, many aspects of al-Nakba, or the Palestinian catastrophe have parallels in contemporary history.[2] One important but neglected case that lends itself to comparative research is the struggle of the people of Western Sahara for self-determination. Palestinians and Sahrawis have been denied their political rights that derive from the fact that they are nations. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two cases: Zionism expelled the Palestinian inhabitants in order to replace them with Jewish settlers on expropriated Palestinian land.

As for the Moroccan regime, it aims at annexing Western Sahara and assimilating Sahrawis as Moroccan citizens; it rejects the Sahrawi right to self-determination, which according to the UN Charter means Sahrawis have the right to establish their own state, if such is the will of the nation expressed in a referendum. In light of the above, I will discuss a few themes based on oral histories and narratives I collected while conducting research in Palestinian and Sahrawi refugee camps[3] mainly to situate oral history in relation to the national project, and to outline how Palestinian and Sahrawi refugees reproduce the concepts of homeland and their imagined return. The limitations set for the article unfortunately do not allow me to elaborate on any of the points raised here, or to include excerpts from the life-histories. However, I think it is important to mention some of the issues I observed in the Sahrawi case that have resonance in the Palestinian context: a) the reshaping of gender and generational relationships in the context of prolonged conflict and displacement; b) the Moroccan ‘Wall of Shame’ ironically built upon the advise of Ariel Sharon to the late King Hassan II in the mid-eighties;[4] c) the creation of new realities by subsidizing Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara; c) the autonomy plan suggested by Morocco which has many similarities to the Oslo agreements; d) finally, forms of mobilization, organization and resistance (including the role of youth in the two Intifadas) in both national liberation movements which have straddled two centuries, and their relationship to the larger Arab world.[5]

Refugee oral histories bring stories of how individuals and communities experience prolonged conflict and displacement to the public. Because of this, and despite variations in socio-economic status, gender, generation, country of refuge embedded in the accounts, each oral history simultaneously functions as an individual and a collective history. However, by definition, an oral account is open and incomplete in the sense that what is articulated, remembered or silenced and forgotten depends on the context in which it is narrated.[6]

Background to the Sahrawi Conflict

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony for almost a century (1884-1975). Upon the withdrawal of Spain in 1975, Moroccan and Mauritanian forces invaded the territory, forcing the flight of Sahrawis to the inhospitable Algerian desert. Although Mauritania signed a peace agreement with the Sahrawis in 1979, Morocco continues to occupy two-thirds of the territory, and adamantly rejects the idea of a Sahrawi referendum on self-determination. In fact, Morocco claims that Western Sahara is Moroccan territory in violation of the principle of uti possidetis applied in decolonization cases,[7] the UN Charter, several Security Council and UNGA Resolutions, and a 1975 International Court of Justice advisory opinion[8]. Morocco describes the Polisario[9] as a ‘separatist’ movement, yet its underlying aim has little to do with its ideals for unity. Rather, Morocco’s interest is in controlling the rich phosphate deposits, abundant fisheries along the Atlantic coast, and a large potential of oil and gas underneath the sand and waters of Western Sahara.

In arid Algerian desert camps built on sand,[10] the Polisario established the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).[11] The state-in-exile proceeded to implement a National Action Program directed at transforming the refugees into citizens capable of leading their own future nation-state upon their return to Western Sahara. However, neither SADR nor the refugees anticipated that their exile would last for three decades and that the referendum would have as much substance as a desert mirage.

Oral History and the Nation: Subaltern, Hegemonic and as Established Tradition

Palestinian society has a written record of its past, this despite its dispersal, the Zionist attempt to destroy its historical record, and the lack of centralized state institutions. At one level of analysis, the Palestinian written/professional or official record is described as hegemonic for its emphasis on the elite and its marginalization of the poorer segments of society. Consequently, oral history increasingly became a focus of research to capture the experiences of the poor, including refugees. Although it is not possible to conflate the Palestinian hegemonic meta-narrative of the past with that of subaltern classes, both are inseparably entangled and occupy the position of the subaltern in relation to a dominant Zionist colonial historiography.

The Oslo context gave impetus to an upsurge in projects aiming to document Palestinian experiences before and during al-Nakba, countering the Oslo agreements which framed the conflict and its resolution upon the 1967 Israeli occupation, thereby deliberately circumventing the 1948 war and its consequences. Thus, oral histories of Palestinian refugees pose as a discourse of remembering against omission implied in the Palestinian Authority’s official policies (despite lip-service to UNGAR 194), and reaffirming they still have land claims, political and legal rights in the 1948 territories.

Unlike the Palestinians who prior to the al-Nakba were a settled agricultural population, Sahrawi tribes were mobile pastoralists[12] who did not have a written historical record,[13] but did have an established oral tradition transmitted through narration, poetry and story-telling. However, the conflict necessitated reconstructing a Sahrawi official history in a coherent manner to counter Morocco’s claims that they do not have a distinctive national past, and to educate younger generations on the basis of national—not tribal—affiliation and belonging.

Thus, when asked to distinguish a Sahrawi culture, refugees point to such factors as their separate historical experience shaped by Spanish colonialism as opposed to that experienced by other North African countries colonized by the French; their specific Arabic dialect called Hassaniyyah;[14] their mode of livelihood; food, dress, songs and the status of Sahrawi women.[15]

 In 1991 a cease-fire came into effect and the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was deployed with the purpose of administering the referendum. Refugees eagerly began to prepare Sanadeeq al-Awda (suitcases of return), believing they were returning to participate in the referendum which the UN planned to implement in January 1992.[16] However, Morocco succeeded in endlessly obstructing the process, and the suitcases became reminders of international betrayal for failing to pressure Morocco to abide by Security Council and UN Resolutions.

In light of the above, it is not surprising that oral histories of Sahrawi refugees collected more than a decade after the 1991 cease-fire, reveal growing public criticism and pressure on Polisario-SADR to resume armed struggle, especially by unemployed, impoverished and educated youth who linger wasting their years in the scorching desert, as they say just ‘drinking tea.’ However, similar to the effects of the Palestinian Intifada, the Sahrawi Intifada[17] within the Moroccan occupied territory which began on the 21st of May 2005 became the focus of solidarity activities between the outside (refugee camps) and the inside (Western Sahara) reawakening nationalist sentiments.

The oral histories of Sahrawis also map out how they situate their political and cultural identities in the context of the Arab world. Sahrawis are an Arab and Muslim people. However, refugees express anger towards Arab governments, and underscore their Sahrawi and African identity. This is not surprising considering that most Arab countries know little of their struggle and most Arab governments have sided with Morocco, while African states including South Africa and Kenya have recognized SADR as their legitimate state.

Narratives of the Homeland and Return

For Palestinian refugees of rural origins, their pre-1948 original village land and a ‘peasant way of life’ represent continuity, stability and contiguity within a familiar Palestinian landscape, upon which they carried out specific (gendered) tasks and mapped their social identities in elaborate genealogical charts. For city dwellers, an urban culture, the neighborhood and family house are the loci of memory and personal history.

The Palestinian return was always a distant vision (Swedenburg, 1991) and little attention was given to the shape and concrete form of the future society after liberation. Consequently, the form of remembering Palestine strongly reshaped the conceptualization of the future return: a collective return to an original land, village and place. Thus, in the oral histories recorded shortly after the Oslo agreements, 1948-refugees did not consider that the return to a Palestinian state as citizens in the West Bank and Gaza fulfilled their dream/right of return. In fact, many of the refugees living in camps in Jordan considered a ‘return’ to a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza but not to the original village as another form of displacement.

The oral histories of Sahrawis resemble those of Palestinian refugees, including a narrative trope that is reconstructed around contrasts: as before and after the Moroccan ghazu (invasion) which had resulted in their mass flight in 1975 referred to as al-Intilaqa (departure) a term equivalent to the Palestinian al-Hijra or al-Nakba. These oral narratives depict pastoral nomadism as central to the Sahrawi cultural ethos and nationalist discourse, just as the rural hinterland and the fallah (peasant or farmer) informed Palestinian nationalism, despite the fact that new generations were born in exile and many had lived in urban centers even prior to their displacement.

For Sahrawi refugees of all generations the historical homeland is remembered as a landscape where they were free, dignified nomads and warriors who moved from place to place following the rain and greener pasture. However, movement and settlement are specified as along familiar and known routes, wells, streams and hills, which took on more significance as Sahrawi territory in the context of the anti-colonial struggle and their displacement. This attachment to Sahrawi territory counters the popular conception that nomads or Bedouins are not attached to national territories, because their mode of livelihood implies crossing between geo-political boundaries.

Unlike Palestinian refugee oral histories of return which focus on the land and original village, Sahrawis center their imagined return on the independent state. This is partially due to the nature of the conflict, wherein Morocco is willing at best to accept an autonomy, while Sahrawis aspire for sovereignty. However, the yearning for their own dawla (state), an objective prevalent in Sahrawi oral histories, may also be attributed to the role of the Polisario-SADR in mobilizing for the future on the basis of citizenship, and upon modernist ideals of development and progress.

SADR’s National Action Program required collective mobilization and participation at all levels. This process involved administering camps as if they were provinces, districts and municipalities, and the establishment of ministries, popular committees, national unions, schools, hospitals, etc. Thus, the Polisario-SADR took over many of the functions previously carried out by the family and tribal freeg,[18] initiating fundamental social transformation. The aim of SADR was to pave the way for the return of refugees, which was outlined in the UN sponsored peace plan ‘as a stage necessary for the completion of a peace process’ (Bhatia 2003:786).

In conclusion, I would like to point out that research outside the Palestinian case is not only theoretically interesting, but is important to draw lessons in forms of resistance and political struggle. One issue that stands out here is the importance of collective mobilization around a strategic vision, and the conditions that promote or challenge popular consent. For both peoples, the hope of return has not vanished despite decades of displacement and it is clear that such a return is imagined as a collective one based on national rights. However, for Palestinians the past informs the imagined future, wherein the expropriated land and property lost in 1948 are yet to be reclaimed and returned. For Sahrawi refugees, sovereignty in the form of a state is central in their discourse of return. What is certain is that despite decades of overwhelming power and repression imposed on these two stateless populations, their forms of struggle have changed, but not silenced.


Amnesty International. 2006. “Report 2006,” <>.

Bhatia, Michael. 2003. 2003. “Repatriation under a Peace Process: Mandated Return in the Western Sahara.” International Journal of Refugee Law. 15 (4): 786-822.

Farah, Randa. 2003. “Western Sahara and Palestine: Shared Refugee Experiences.” Forced Migration Review. Oxford: Refugee Studies Centre with the Norwegian Refugee Council/Global IDP Project. January, 16: 20-23.

‘The Significance of Oral Narratives and Life Histories.’ Al-Jana: The Harvest: File on Palestinian Oral History. Rosemary Sayigh, ed., Beirut: Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts, pp 24-27.

International Court of Justice, Case Summaries. 1975. “Western Sahara: Advisory Opinion of 16 October 1975.” <>.

Joffe, George. 1996. “Self-Determination and Uti Possidetis: The Western Sahara and the "Lost Provinces."” The Journal of the Society for Moroccan Studies. 1: 97-115.

Swedenburg, Ted. 1991. "Popular Memory and the Palestinian National Past." In Golden Ages, Dark Ages: Imagining the Past in History and Anthropology, Jay O'Brien and William Roseberry, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 152-79.

Tamari, Salim. 1994. “Problems of Social Science Research In Palestine: An Overview,” Current Sociology, 42(2):69-86.


[1] I would like to express my gratitude to the Sahrawi and Palestinian refugees who allowed me to record their life-histories. I am also grateful to the Office of the Vice-President, Research and International Relations at the University of Western Ontario, which provided me with funds that allowed me to conduct research in the last two years in Sahrawi camps.

[2] On the importance of comparative studies, see S. Tamara (1994).

[3] I conducted anthropological field research in Palestinian camps between 1995 and 2000, and the material used for this paper on the Sahrawi case took place between 2004 and 2006, although I have been visiting the camps since 2003.

[4] See speech delivered by Margot Kessler on 19th April 2002 during the Euromed conference in Valencia, Spain organized by the United Left in which she stated: “Western Sahara is split in two: a 1800 kms long military defence wall was built in the early 80's by Hassan II on the advise of someone who will be much talked about at this conference: that is ... Ariel Sharon.”

[5] For more information on Sahrawi and Palestinian camps see Farah, 2003.

[6] On Palestinian oral narratives see R. Farah (2002).

[7] In 1964 the Organization of African Unity (currently the African Union) adopted this principle which establishes the boundaries of the colonial territories as the frontiers of newly independent states. For more on this question see G. Joffe (1996).

[8] See the International Court of Justice. 1975. “Case Summaries: Western Sahara: Advisory Opinion of 16 October 1975.” <>.

[9] Polisario is the Spanish acronym for Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el Hamra y Rio de Oro or The Popular Front for the Liberation of al-Saqiya al-Hamra and Rio de Oro, the two regions that constitute Western Sahara. The Polisario was established on the 10 May 1973 and led the Sahrawi resistance against the Spanish and later against the Moroccan and Mauritanian invasion.

[10] The nearest town to the Sahrawi camps is Tindouf, a small Algerian border town. The camps are geographically isolated in one of the harshest deserts, where temperatures can soar to over fifty degrees in the summer and below zero in winter. There are no electricity lines or water pipes, therefore most refugees rely on batteries for electricity and water tanks. This is in contrast to Palestinian camps located in or near major urban centers in the Middle East.

[11] The Sahrawi state was declared in exile in the refugee camps in Algeria on the 27th of February 1976 and is recognized by over eighty countries.

[12] The Sahrawis subsidized their livelihood with seasonal cultivation, trade, fishing and towards the end of the Spanish colonial era, many were forced to settle in urban centers working as cheap labor in colonial enterprises, primarily in the phosphate industry and the construction of roads.

[13] Sahrawis often hired a Mrabet or Koranic teacher who taught reading and writing to the children of a freeg (see note xviii). The Mrabet moved with the freeg and was usually paid in kind for his services.

[14] Sahrawis are the descendents of tribes who migrated to North Africa during the Islamic conquest and intermarried with local Berbers, one of these tribes was Bani Hassan, hence the term Hassaniyya.

[15] Sahrawis point to the fact that unlike the situation of women in surrounding Arab countries, Sahrawi women are highly respected (violence against women is absent and abhorred among Sahrawis), autonomous and have equal rights enshrined in SADR’s constitution.

[16] Many Sahrawis informed me they were so sure they were returning that they sold all their meager belongings.

[17] See Amnesty International, which stated that popular protests were met with ‘excessive use of force’. Many Sahrawis have been killed, injured or imprisoned as a result of their demands for self-determination and human rights. For more information on the Sahrawi Intifada see

[18] The freeg or group is the basic socio-economic unit in the Sahrawi tribal society made of three to five tents or families who cooperated in carrying out daily functions.

Published in Oral History—Uncovering Palestinian Memory (Winter 2007)
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Madrid, Jan 05,2010 (SPS) The Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon, will travel in the coming days, to the Saharawi refugee camps to interview thirteen Saharawi witnesses in connection with his investigation of the genocide and war crimes "perpetrated by politicians and Moroccan troops in Western Sahara since October 1975," announced Monday the Spanish radio (COPE).

"In refugee camps, Judge Garzon will hear a total of thirteen Saharawi witnesses accusing 32 political and Moroccan military chiefs on war crimes and genocide against the Saharawi people,"since 1975, when the Morocco military has invaded Western Sahara, said the radio program "La Manana."

The famous judge of the National Court, the highest Spanish criminal proceeding, had agreed in September 2006 a complaint of Sahrawi citizens and several Spanish and Sahrawi human rights organizations for "the crime of genocide, murder and torture committed by Moroccan state in Western Sahara."

These include the Association of Families of Sahrawi Prisoners and Disappeared (AFAPREDESA), the Federation of Spanish Institutions for solidarity with the Saharawi people, the Coordination of Spanish associations of solidarity with the Saharawi people and the Spanish Association for Defence human Rights.

Judge Garzon, who said he was "competent" to investigate the complaint had already auditioned in December 2007 in Madrid, four Sahrawi witnesses, thereby initiating a formal investigation procedure on the genocide against the Saharawi people.

A lawyer originally filing the complaint had stated, "International crimes mentioned include genocide, torture, forced disappearances of people, abductions, killings and injuries.

He explained further that "in the complaint are recounted the circumstances in which were perpetrated these acts, how 40,000 Saharans had fled their country, how they were kidnapped, tortured, sometimes thrown from helicopters into the void, how countless crimes were committed against them and all acts of genocide."

The complaint also notes that the massacre of the Saharawi people has extended over several years during which it was subjected to domination by a foreign power preventing it from "freely exercise their right to self-determination, recognized by the resolution 1514 General Assembly of the UN in December 1960."

The plaintiffs also claimed that "since October 1975 until now the Moroccan army had a permanent violence" against the Saharawi people in a war of invasion requiring 40,000 Saharawis to abandon their homes and flee into the desert where they were "pursued and shelled by the invading forces with napalm, white phosphorous and cluster bombs." (SPS)

Copyright © Sahara Press Service. All Rights Reserved

Activists hiding in Laayoune denounce 'genocide'
Staff—11/15/2010 |

Spaniard Isabel Terraza and Mexican Antonio Velázquez released a video in which they call on the UN for urgent intervention.

The Spanish pro-Sahrawi activist Isabel Terraza and her Mexican partner Antonio Velázquez, who have spent the last few days hiding in the Sahrawi capital of Laayoune, have publicly censured the "genocide being committed by the Moroccan regime" on the Sahrawi people, for which they urge immediate intervention from the UN.

In a video-communication sent to the media and uploaded onto YouTube, the two activists request that the Security Council uphold the human rights of the Sahrawi population, urge the International Red Cross to enter the territory in order to attend to the victims and call on the international community to condemn the assault being carried out on the civilian population.

"This is an international emergency and it is necessary that all the international organisations stop this massacre," the activists declare. In the video, which lasts two minutes and was filmed on Sunday in Laayoune, Terraza and Velázquez say they are "witnesses to the genocide currently being committed by the Moroccan regime on the Sahrawi civilian population in the occupied capital of Western Sahara."

Terraza cites the "violent repression being exerted on the Sahrawi people" in the streets and in their homes, since the evacuation of the Agdaym Izik last November 8th.

Furthermore, the activists accuse the "occupying Moroccan regime" of not allowing the press to enter "in order to hide the atrocities," adding that "they want to kill us, because we are bearing witness before the whole world."

"We have been hiding out in the city of Laayoune for the past few days but, like us, thousands of Sahrawis are in the same situation or worse because police and the Moroccan military are entering their homes by forces; they then torture them, and many die as a result," affirms Terraza.

Morocco is carrying out a wave of repression and torture following last week's eviction by force of a Sahrawi camp based on the outskirts of Laayoune.

Spanish newspaper El Mundo revealed on Monday that Moroccan authorities are organizing colonist militia to 'hunt' Sahrawis and colonise Laayoune.

Aminatou Haidar
أميناتو حيدر

The following information has been excerpted from her Wikipedia page.

Awards: Juan Maria Bandres Human Rights Award, Silver Rose Award, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, Civil Courage Prize, Jovellanos 'Resistance & Freedom' International Award, University of Coimbra Medal

Aminatou Ali Ahmed Haidar (Arabic: أحمد علي حيدر أميناتو‎; born 24 July 1966 or 1967), sometimes known as Aminetou, Aminatu or Aminetu, is a Sahrawi human rights defender and political activist. She is a leading activist for the independence of Western Sahara. She is sometimes called the "Sahrawi Gandhi" for her nonviolent protests, including hunger strikes, in the support of the independence of Western Sahara. She is the president of the Collective Of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA).

Aminatou spent her childhood in Tan-Tan (formerly part of the Spanish West Africa). She now lives in El Aaiún in Western Sahara, with her two children (Muhammad and Hayat), is divorced, and holds a baccalaureate in modern literature.

On 21 November 1987, she became one of the hundreds of Sahrawis who "disappeared" in Moroccan prisons. After years of torture and interrogation (she spent her entire imprisonment blindfolded, because of which she suffers photophobia, as well as other health problems), she was finally released on June 19, 1991. She had been held in prison for nearly four years without any charges or trial, in secret detention centres. The Moroccan authorities have never provided a formal reason for her arrest and "disappearance," but it is believed that she was targeted for peacefully demanding the right of the people of Western Sahara to self-determination.

She was incarcerated for the second time in the Black Prison of El Aaiún on June 17, 2005, after having been arrested in a hospital where she was receiving treatment for injuries inflicted by Moroccan police, during a peaceful demonstration in the Western Sahara Independence Intifada. Reportedly she was tortured during interrogations. Amnesty International has expressed great concern about the situation of Sahrawi prisoners in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, and specifically taken an interest in the case of Haidar, expressing fear that her right to a fair trial might not be respected, and stating that she may be a prisoner of conscience.

On December 14, 2005, Haidar was sentenced to seven months in prison by a Moroccan court in El Aaiún. Amnesty, which had sent an observer to cover the trial, was immediately sharply critical of the Moroccan government, and said it was strengthened in its belief that she may be a prisoner of conscience.

There was an international campaign for Haidar's release supported by 178 members of the European Parliament. The parliament also called for her immediate release in a resolution in October 2005.

On January 17, 2006, Haidar was released at the end of her sentence. A demonstration received her in Lemleihess because Moroccan authorities didn't allow her family to receive her in their own house. She reportedly commented that "...the joy is incomplete without the release of all Saharawi political prisoners, and without the liberation of all the territories of the homeland still under the occupation of the oppressor."

After this discharge, Haidar was granted compensation of 45,000 euros from the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) established by the Moroccan government to compensate the victims of arbitrary arrest.

On November 13, 2009, Haidar was arrested on her return to El-Aaiún for allegedly refusing to enter "Morocco" in the "Country" box on her entry card, instead leaving the citizenship line blank on her customs form, and writing "Western Sahara" — the disputed territory where she lives — in the address line. She had done the same many times previously without problems. She later declared that she was not visiting Morocco but Western Sahara. She refuses to accept that Western Sahara is a part of Morocco. "They want to compel me to recognize that Western Sahara belongs to Morocco," she declared to journalists on November 14, 2009.

Haidar arrived at El-Aaiún airport from Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. She was with two Spanish journalists, Pedro Barbadillo and Pedro Guillén, who accompanied her with the intention of making a documentary about human rights abuses in Western Sahara. The two journalists were detained for trespassing and filming in the airport without prior authorisation. The Moroccan authorities claim that Haidar declared she was renouncing her Moroccan citizenship and that she voluntarily signed the renunciation documents, and surrendered her passport and national ID card. Following this alleged renunciation, she was deported, along with the two journalists that accompanied her, to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. Barbadillo, who was with her when she completed the entry documents to travel to Western Sahara, claims that the Moroccan government's version of events is false and declared he saw her completing the form himself. Documents that were retrieved and published in the Spanish newspaper El País show that the Moroccan government had made three different flight reservations for Haidar, indicating that they had planned to expel her from the country days in advance of her actual arrival. Because they did not know with certainty when she would be arriving, they booked seats in her name on three different flights, so they could deport her whenever she arrived.

According to El País, Haidar informed the pilot on her flight back to Spanish territory that she did not have documents to travel and was being held against her will. The pilot was doubtful, but finally took off after receiving a call from Spanish authorities. The party finally arrived at Lanzarote about noon on Saturday evening, and Haidar sought the urgent intervention of the United Nations Secretary General to "ensure personal protection" and declined to leave the departure terminal at Lanzarote airport, claiming that the Spanish authorities had kidnapped her by declining to allow her to board another international flight (to El-Aaiún) because she was unable to produce her passport. She was apparently entitled to travel within Spanish territory. Mohamed Salem, a delegate of the Frente Polisario in Canarias, claimed that she intended to remain at the terminal of Lanzarote airport, and engage in a hunger strike in protest against her kidnap by the Spanish authorities.

On November 17, 2009, while on hunger strike, she was told by the Spanish authorities to appear in court on public order charges. A fine of 180 euros was imposed by the Spanish court for public order disturbance.

El País reported that a Moroccan delegation led by the President of the Moroccan Senate, Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah, visited Spain in early December 2009. He insisted that the Sahrawi people are fully integrated into Moroccan society and occupy some of the highest offices in Moroccan institutions. He insisted that no country would accept the return of a person who had "thrown away their passport" and "has renounced their nationality."

Biadillah later met with Jorge Moragas, coordinator of the main opposition People's Party, which intends to bring an action against the Spanish Government, alleging it violated two articles of the law on foreigners by implicitly assisting Morocco to force Haidar to cross the Spanish border on November 14, 2009, in Lanzarote.

Ever since Haidar was deported, numerous actors, writers, musicians, politicians, human rights activists and personalities have shown support for her cause and have asked both the Moroccan and Spanish governments to resolve the situation. In November 2009, Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning writer José Saramago who has a home in Lanzarote, sent her a letter of support, saying that "If I were in Lanzarote, I would be with you" (he was away from the island) and stating "We would all be poorer without Haidar." About Morocco he declared "Whoever is confident about its past doesn't need to expropriate its neighbour to express a greatness that no one will never recognize." Later, on December 1, Saramago finally met Haidar at Lanzarote's airport to show her his "respect and admiration." He also declared that "It's time for the international community to pressure Morocco to comply with the accords about the Sahara."

Eduardo Galeano and Javier Bardem are among the personalities who have asked both governments to put an end to this situation, which they describe as an injustice. Bardem published an open letter in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo in which he expressed his "support and respect for the human rights campaigner and representative of the Sahrawi people." His letter criticizes the Spanish government as "blind." Galeano has also shown his solidarity with Haidar. He has thanked her for her "bravery." He also said in his letter: "People like you help us confirm that a fight for another world is not and will never be a useless passion. Thank you very much. Lots of people love you, and I am one of them." Writer Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa also give Haidar his support. Argentinean Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel asked for a "humanitarian and political exit" for Haidar, and called the Spanish and Moroccan governments to undertake dialogue to see "in what ways could the European Union, Council of Europe or even the United Nations intervene to avoid a tragic outcome and try to save her life, but not at any cost."

British film-makers Ken Loach and Paul Laverty sent two letters to newspapers, one to El País and another to The Guardian. In the first one they draw a parallel between Haidar and Rosa Parks. They asked the Spanish government to guarantee her safe return home. In the second letter, they began by referring to a collective letter sent to Juan Carlos I, asking for his mediation with the Moroccan Sultan, and their belief that begging won't bring a solution. Then they blamed Mohamed IV for "ignoring international standards, human rights law and the international court of justice ... behaving like some medieval despot" and accused him of "threaten[ing] Spain with impoverished Moroccans across the straits, or turning a blind eye to Islamic fundamentalists." They finally highlighted the non-violent resistance of Haidar, and demand justice as human beings.

On December 10, 2009, a letter was sent to the King of Spain, asking him to intercede for Haidar with Morocco. The letter was signed by three Nobel laureates—Günter Grass, Dario Fo and José Saramago—as well as other international personalities, including Pedro Almodóvar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Penélope Cruz, Antonio Gala, Almudena Grandes, Carlos Fuentes and Ignacio Ramonet among others.

On December 29, 2009, a free concert to show solidarity with Aminetou Haidar was held in Rivas Vaciamadrid, on the outskirts of Madrid, with performances by Bebe, Kiko Veneno, Macaco, Amaral, Pedro Guerra, Mariem Hassan, Conchita, Miguel Ríos and Ismael Serrano among others.

Ban Ki-moon and European Union leaders were seeking a means of applying some effective pressure on Morocco. The solution, according to some diplomatic sources, might be a US intervention that went beyond the statement it released on November 26, 2009, in which the State Department expressed "concern" about the health of Haidar and called for respect of her rights. According to El País, the US finally entered the crisis, triggered by the expulsion of Haidar, by contributing more international pressure on the king of Morocco to allow the return of Sahrawi activist to the city where she lived with her family.

On December 11, 2009 Haidar entered her 25th day of hunger strike in the airport of Lanzarote and Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos announced he was to make an ad-hoc trip to Washington three days later for talks with his counterpart. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri, asking him to allow Aminatou to return to her home in El Aaiun.

On December 18, 2009, following 32 days on hunger strike and a brief admission to the intensive care unit of Lanzarote hospital, the BBC reported Haidar returned home following interventions by the US and France. Upon her return, Haidar was placed under house arrest by Moroccan police.

In 2005 she was nominated for the Sakharov Prize, and in 2006 she was nominated by the US branch of Amnesty International to the Ginetta Sagan Fund Award. In May 2006 Haidar was awarded the V Juan Maria Bandres award for Human Rights (Spain), and in October 2007 she received the European Parliament Silver Rose Award (Austria). In February 2008, the American Friends Service Committee announced it had proposed Haidar as a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. In May 2008, she was awarded the Special Prize City of Castelldefels (Spain), given by the city council. Haidar won the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award (US). In addition to the prize (which includes a financial component), the RFK Memorial Center offers to partner with recipients in their work. Haidar was awarded the 2009 Civil Courage Prize (US) on 20 October 2009 at an award ceremony in New York City. In January 2010, the Italian municipality of Sesto Fiorentino appointed Haidar as "Honorary Citizen" of the village, for her "non-violent struggle for Liberty and Human Rights for her people." Days later, another Italian municipality, Campi Bisenzio, decided by a majority to grant her "Honorary Citizenship." In July 2010, another ten towns from the Italian province of Lucca decided to give the "Honorary Citizenship" to Haidar (one of them, Stazzema, also gave her the "Gold Medal of Resistance"). A further 20 Italian towns have appointed Aminatou Haidar as "Honorary Citizen." Haidar has been also awarded in 2010 with the I Jovellanos 'Resistance & Freedom' International Award (Spain), the "Liberty, Peace & Solidarity" prize on the XXXIV "The Best of 2009" awards, given by the Spanish weekly magazine Cambio 16 & the VI Dolores Ibárruri Prize (Spain). She has been nominated again by more than 40 European parliamentarians to the Sakharov Prize, in its 2010 edition, and also to the "African Personality 2010" prix, given by the Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust. Few days after, europarlamentarian Willy Meyer Pleite denounced a campaign of letters by Morocco to avoid the concession of the prize to Haidar. In November Haidar was awarded with the "University of Coimbra Medal, "given by the Portuguese educational institution for her attitude and civic actuations in defense of human rights in Western Sahara. That month she also received the "International Prize Trojan Horse of Guacales" (Mexico) at the UNAM, during the "Revolutionary Women's Day."

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