The Wall We Can’t Tell You About

14 May, 2021

silence on the sahara wall.jpg

We can’t tell you about this wall with­out poten­tial­ly being cen­sored or hound­ed by gov­ern­ments who are sworn to keep it out of the news and the pub­lic eye, but our con­trib­u­tor calls this “the wall of walls” or “ghost wall” because it has been so suc­cess­ful­ly kept off our radar. This is the world’s largest secu­ri­ty wall and one of its best-kept secrets. —Ed.

Building Oblivion

The biggest repres­sive struc­ture in the his­to­ry of mankind cuts through West­ern Sahara, a daunt­ing 2,700-kilometer mil­i­tary berm strewn with over three mil­lion land mines, and per­ma­nent­ly manned by 140,000 Moroc­can troops. This mil­i­tary wall sep­a­rates the Sahrawi liv­ing under ille­gal Moroc­can occu­pa­tion from those liv­ing in immense refugee camps at the west­ern­most fron­tier of Alge­ria, with a vast inter-zone of the Lib­er­at­ed Ter­ri­to­ries, lands reclaimed by the Polis­ario Front, the armed branch of the SADR (the Sahrawi Arab Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic). In spite of its gigan­tism this repres­sive wall remains vir­tu­al­ly unknown today — a para­dox in the era of inter­net and social net­works where we naive­ly believe that no injus­tice can go unno­ticed, con­vinced as we are of being alert and well-informed on all matters.

The stag­ger­ing Sahara Wall per­fect­ly sym­bol­izes the lev­el of invest­ment that Moroc­co con­se­crates to the repres­sion of the indige­nous Sahrawi peo­ple, the annex­a­tion of their lands and the spo­li­a­tion of their nat­ur­al resources. Under the cov­er of the wall, it is with total impuni­ty that the Moroc­can king­dom has engaged in the orga­nized theft of the world’s rich­est phos­phate mines, while licens­ing indus­tri­al fish­ing in Sahara coastal waters, among the rich­est in the world, and ille­gal­ly sell­ing oil and gas explo­ration blocks to major inter­na­tion­al oil companies. 

Here, the term of strat­e­gy is inap­plic­a­ble for we are no longer with­in the realm of ordi­nary pol­i­tics. It is the phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal inte­gra­tion of the “Infamy of Walls,” an excep­tion of mod­ern times where­in a tyran­ni­cal pow­er applies extreme mea­sures to resolve momen­tary needs, con­fused with more per­ma­nent neces­si­ties, and reverts to the feu­dal tech­nique of con­struct­ing a wall. But in this case mod­ern inge­nu­ity per­verts the defen­sive ori­gins of the wall to trans­form it into an implaca­ble tool of oppression. 

The first wall of this type to be con­struct­ed in mod­ern times was raised by the Nazis to make of the War­saw ghet­to a death camp in an urban envi­ron­ment. The sec­ond was the Berlin Wall from which the world has yet to recov­er in spite of its destruc­tion in 1989. The third and by far the most stu­pe­fy­ing in all aspects, is the one financed by Sau­di Ara­bia and built by Israel for the king­dom of Moroc­co with the assis­tance of France and the Unit­ed States in West­ern Sahara, in order to pre­vent the Sahrawi peo­ple from return­ing to their lands. The fourth wall being the one that Israel is actu­al­ly con­sol­i­dat­ing to encir­cle the Pales­tini­ans. How­ev­er, it is the Sahara Wall that is by far the most incred­i­ble con­struc­tion of repres­sive nature of our era — one that is clos­er to the realm of sci­ence fic­tion than it is to reality. 

Para­dox­i­cal­ly, Israel has had con­sid­er­able com­pe­tence in build­ing walls of repres­sion, sur­veil­lance and sep­a­ra­tion. His­tor­i­cal­ly, Jerusalem had fur­nished Pre­to­ria with the sur­veil­lance tech­nol­o­gy for its bor­ders with Namib­ia and Ango­la and it had built the elec­tric fence along the Zim­bab­we bor­der to assist South Africa in fight­ing the ANC and SWAPO. This expe­ri­ence and that which it had acquired dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the Bar-Lev Line built along the Suez Canal dur­ing the Kip­pur War, were put to the ser­vice of Moroc­co to build the gigan­tic mil­i­tary wall that sep­a­rates the Sahraw­is from their home­land in West­ern Sahara. In turn, this has proven to be vital expe­ri­ence for the wall which Israel has built around the Pales­tin­ian population.

Lit­tle infor­ma­tion and hard­ly any images are avail­able con­cern­ing this edi­fice, this ghost wall; in spite of its mon­u­men­tal­i­ty, it was built in secret and remains large­ly unknown to the gen­er­al pub­lic in the Occi­dent —not that the wall would be invis­i­ble. It is our col­lec­tive con­science that has van­ished, total­ly absent when faced with mas­sive injus­tice, so tak­en are we by our per­ma­nent quest for enter­tain­ment. We thrive on diver­tisse­ment, shy­ing away from any­thing that might prove chal­leng­ing to the moral val­ues we once held. It is true that press cen­sor­ship con­cern­ing the Sahara Wall is total; indeed the entire ques­tion of the uni­lat­er­al annex­a­tion of West­ern Sahara by Moroc­co has been effaced, but this does not excuse our igno­rance on the sub­ject. The wall’s invis­i­bil­i­ty in spite of its gigan­tism is the per­fect reflec­tion of the incu­ri­ous soci­ety which is ours. 


“Man: Forget” neon, 30 x 20 cm, 2016 (phonetic iteration Arabic words meaning Man as in mankind and the verb to Forget), courtesy artist Jean Lamore.

“Man: For­get” neon, 30 x 20 cm, 2016 (pho­net­ic iter­a­tion Ara­bic words mean­ing Man as in mankind and the verb to For­get), cour­tesy artist Jean Lamore.

Nev­er have the archi­tects of this type of wall been in their right; nev­er have these projects of mas­sive repres­sion and con­fine­ment of pop­u­la­tions ever been able to over­ride jus­tice in the long term. Which doesn’t pre­vent each one of these con­struc­tions from being a heavy mort­gage on the future of human­i­ty. Walls of this type are the most faith­ful indi­ca­tors of injustice. 

If the wall enclav­ing the Pales­tini­ans is no secret, who among us has heard of the Sahara Wall, four times longer and far more lethal? The inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty still has the atavis­tic reflex of look­ing to France as being the his­tor­i­cal author­i­ty for all mat­ters con­cern­ing the Maghreb, the nation know­ing the ropes through its colo­nial expe­ri­ence in North Africa. But in France there is no free­dom of the press con­cern­ing this par­tic­u­lar issue. Why? Apart from the evi­dent geopol­i­tics, many own­ers of the big French dailies as well as the direc­tors of media have their very own riad (pri­vate palace) in Moroc­co. How then could they pos­si­bly per­mit a jour­nal­ist to pub­lish an arti­cle or air a pro­gram going against the inter­est of their roy­al host? 

Those rare jour­nal­ists who do make it to the occu­pied ter­ri­to­ries of West­ern Sahara are reg­u­lar­ly evict­ed, their equip­ment con­fis­cat­ed by the Moroc­cans, (fifty-six jour­nal­ists were evict­ed from West­ern Sahara in 2014 alone). Numer­ous Euro­pean par­lia­men­tary mem­bers inves­ti­gat­ing human rights con­di­tions of the Sahrawi have also been sum­mar­i­ly expelled by the Moroc­can occu­pa­tion­al author­i­ties. Even the Unit­ed Nations Mis­sion for the Ref­er­en­dum in West­ern Sahara, (MINURSO), has suf­fered the humil­i­a­tion of hav­ing its equip­ment reg­u­lar­ly con­fis­cat­ed by the Moroc­can army. 

By the very para­dox of its occult­ed gigan­tism, the Sahara Wall, the wall of all walls per­fect­ly sym­bol­izes this very par­tic­u­lar form of oppres­sion, the con­struc­tion of obliv­ion so mas­sive­ly applied to the Sahrawi people. 

Here lies a major cause, fun­da­men­tal in its sym­bol­ism, a barom­e­ter of inter­na­tion­al law and its fail­ure. The inva­sion and uni­lat­er­al force­ful annex­a­tion of the cov­et­ed neigh­bor­ing ter­ri­to­ry of West­ern Sahara by the expan­sion­ist Moroc­can regime in 1975, left unsanc­tioned by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, gave Sad­dam the green light for sim­i­lar­ly invad­ing Kuwait. Ille­gal actions thus left unpun­ished encour­age oth­ers to do likewise. 

Para­dox­i­cal­ly, some of the worst war­rens of tor­ture are those per­ceived as tourist-friend­ly coun­tries, pass­ing for cham­pi­ons of inter­na­tion­al jus­tice. Cyn­i­cal­ly, Morocco’s King Mohamed VI went as far as to orga­nize a Human Rights Forum in Mar­rakech in Novem­ber 2014, all the while bru­tal­ly repress­ing the Sahrawi. The self-pro­claimed “king of the poor” was fin­gered by Le Monde in Feb­ru­ary 2015 as one of the pro­tag­o­nists of the HSBC Swiss Leaks for the fraud of mil­lions of euros.

France holds the key in that Paris is the accom­plice to the crime. In fla­grant vio­la­tion of the Unit­ed Nations Char­ter, and specif­i­cal­ly Arti­cle 24, France abus­es its role as a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly veto­ing any motion to inves­ti­gate the human rights issues in these ter­ri­to­ries ille­gal­ly occu­pied by its part­ner, Moroc­co. Yet the res­o­lu­tion of the con­flict could be sim­ple: if Paris were to refrain from inter­fer­ing and adopt the impar­tial posi­tion legal­ly required of any per­ma­nent mem­ber of the Unit­ed Nations Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, the con­flict would stand a bet­ter chance of being resolved. But Paris stub­born­ly plays its card in the Maghreb, sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly favor­ing Moroc­co, and oppos­ing itself to Alge­ria and the vast major­i­ty of those African nations favor­able to self-deter­mi­na­tion for the Sahrawi. Beyond the fact that France has strong com­mer­cial and polit­i­cal ties with Moroc­co, it is tempt­ing to con­sid­er that this reflex­ive oppo­si­tion to any­thing Alger­ian would be due to the fact that France has nev­er digest­ed the hard-won inde­pen­dence of its for­mer colony; a sort of psycho/political grudge hand­ed down to suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of French deci­sion-mak­ers ever since Alge­ria obtained its inde­pen­dence in 1962. And France has tra­di­tion­al­ly relied on Morocco’s com­plic­i­ty in any action under­tak­en against Alge­ria. In this rela­tion­ship Rabat very often did the dirty work for Paris: facil­i­tat­ing the arrest of Ben Bel­la and oth­er pro­tag­o­nists of the Alger­ian inde­pen­dence move­ment, and seiz­ing arms ship­ments des­tined to the free­dom fight­ers. The Moroc­can monar­chy is an expan­sion­ist regime, his­tor­i­cal­ly claim­ing ter­ri­to­ry as far as Tim­buc­too, all of Mau­ri­ta­nia, and even attempt­ing to seize a third of Alger­ian ter­ri­to­ry dur­ing the War of Sands in 1963, the year fol­low­ing Algeria’s hard-won inde­pen­dence of 1962. 

The Sahrawi nation, SADR (Sahrawi Arab Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic) con­sti­tutes just the kind of reful­gent exam­ple of lib­er­ty we should urgent­ly be seek­ing to dis­cov­er in these times, when Mid­dle East­ern and North African mat­ters often appear cor­rupt and rife with ter­ror­ism. Here is a young nation where democ­ra­cy has come intrin­si­cal­ly, where free­dom fight­ers put down their arms and chose the route of diplo­ma­cy and inter­na­tion­al law with­out ever hav­ing had recourse to any form of ter­ror­ism. A coun­try where women’s rights are respect­ed with sex­u­al par­i­ty, (women min­sters have always been a part of the Sahrawi gov­ern­ing forces). The young nation, home to a mod­er­ate form of Islam, holds the record for lit­er­a­cy on the African con­ti­nent, with 100% of the pop­u­la­tion read­ing and writing. 

Above all, in my opin­ion, is the fun­da­men­tal fact that this new nation is rec­og­nized by a major­i­ty of African nations, coun­tries such as Alge­ria, Ango­la, Nige­ria and South Africa. Hav­ing acquired their very own rights fol­low­ing recent and harsh strug­gles, their vision of such ques­tions as eman­ci­pa­tion and inde­pen­dence is far more per­spi­ca­cious than is ours.

 

Jean Lam­ore, Paris, May 2021

FranceIsraelMoroccoSahrawi Arab Democratic RepublicWestern Sahara

Artist and writer Jean Lamore is the author of the novels AKA Book of Fever and UQ11 Dawn’s Improbability, and in Italian Construzione del Oblio, Diario del Polisario and Vedere l’Occupazione. For several years he was the founding editor of the glossy review Mamba, a magazine of culture, science and politics. Having traveled extensively in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, his articles have been published in Jeune Afrique, Africa International, Il Manifesto, El Moudjahid and NKA magazine, among others. He wrote and coproduced the documentary Building Oblivion on the great repressive wall of Western Sahara; the film was heralded at the Third Naples Human Rights Film Festival. Lamore exhibits his paintings and sculptures widely. He has appeared regularly on Canal Algérie, TV 5 Monde, France 24 and BBC World, in addition to participating in conferences at the Sorbonne and Assemblée Nationale in Paris, the School of Oriental African Studies (SOAS) London, Suor Orsola Benincasa Naples Philosophical Institute, Naples, Royal African Society, London, Frontline, London, Beirut Art Center (BAC) and Arab Image Foundation, Beirut.