The Berlin Wall made the news every day. From dawn to dusk we read about it, heard about it, and saw it: The Wall of Shame, the Wall of Infamy, the Iron Curtain.
Eventually, this wall, which deserved to fall, fell. But other walls have sprung up, and continue to spring up, and though they are far larger than the Berlin Wall little or nothing is said about them.
Little is said about the wall the United States is erecting along its border with Mexico, or the double razor-wire fences around Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. Next to nothing was said about the West Bank Wall, which perpetuates the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and will soon be 15 times longer than the Berlin Wall. And the Moroccan Wall, which for 20 years has perpetuated Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, goes unmentioned altogether. This wall, continuously mined and surveilled by thousands of soldiers, is 60 times longer than the Berlin Wall.
Why is it that some walls are so vocal and others are so mute? Would it be because of the walls of uncommunication that the major media erect each day?
In July 2004 the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the West Bank Wall violated international law and ordered it torn down. Thus far, Israel hasn’t found out about it.
In October 1975 the same court found that there was no ‘tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco’. To say that Morocco was deaf to the court’s finding is an understatement. It was far worse: the day after the decision was issued, Morocco began the invasion, the so-called ‘Green March’, and before long it had seized vast areas and expelled the majority of the population in a wave of blood and fire.
And so it goes.
A thousand and one UN resolutions have confirmed the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination.
What good were they? A plebiscite was to be held so the population could decide on its fate. To ensure victory, the Moroccan monarch filled the invaded territory with Moroccans. But before long not even the Moroccans were deemed trustworthy. And the King, who had said Yes to the plebiscite, said Who knows? And later he said No, and now his son, who inherited the throne, also says No. The denial is the same as a confession. By denying the right to vote, Morocco confesses that it stole a country.
Will we continue to accept such developments? To accept that in a universal democracy we subjects have a right only to obedience?
What was the effect of the 1,001 UN resolutions against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory? And the 1,001 resolutions against the blockade of Cuba?
As the old saying goes: ‘Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.’
These days patriotism is a privilege of dominant countries. When the dominated countries try it, patriotism smells suspiciously like populism or terrorism, or simply deserves no attention.
The Saharawi patriots who have fought for 30 years to regain their place in the world have won diplomatic recognition from 82 nations, including my country, Uruguay, which recently added its name to the large majority of the countries of Latin America and Africa.
But not Europe. No European country has recognized the Saharawi Republic. Including Spain. This is an instance of serious irresponsibility, or perhaps amnesia, or at least disaffection. Three decades ago the Sahara was a colony of Spain, and Spain had a legal and moral duty to protect its independence.
What did imperial rule leave behind? After a century, how many professionals did it train? Three: a doctor, a lawyer, and a trade expert. That is what it left behind. That and a betrayal. It served up this land and its people on a platter to be devoured by the Kingdom of Morocco.
A few years ago, Javier Corcuera interviewed in a Baghdad hospital a victim of the bombing of Iraq. A bomb had destroyed her arm. Just eight years old, after eleven operations, the girl said: ‘If only we didn’t have oil.’
Maybe the people of the Sahara are guilty because off their long coastline lies the greatest treasure of fishes in the Atlantic Ocean and because beneath the immensity of its seemingly empty sands lie the world’s largest phosphate reserves and perhaps oil, natural gas and uranium.
This prophecy could be, though isn’t, in the Qur’an: ‘Natural resources will be the curse of the people.’
The refugee camps in the south of Algeria are in the most desertic of all deserts. It is a vast void, surrounded by nothingness, where only rocks grow. And yet in this place, and in the liberated areas, which are not much better, the Saharawis have been able to construct the most open and the least machista society in the entire Muslim world.
This miracle of the Saharawis, who are very poor and very few, cannot be explained solely by their tenacious will to be free, which is abundant in these places where everything is lacking. It is also largely a factor of international solidarity. And the majority of assistance comes from the people of Spain. Their vital solidarity, memory and dignity are far more powerful than the waffling of governments and the cynical calculations of business.
Note: solidarity, not charity. Charity humiliates. Do not forget the African proverb: ‘The hand that receives is always lower than the hand that gives.’ * The Saharawis wait. They are condemned to perpetual anguish and perpetual nostalgia. The refugee camps carry the names of their kidnapped cities, their lost meeting places, their haunts: L’ayoun, Smara, Dakhla.
They are called children of the clouds because they have always chased the rain.
For more than 30 years they have also pursued justice, which in our world seems rarer even than water in the desert.