Once upon a time: Gdeim Izik Camp By: Khalil Asmar

In memory of Gdeim Izik camp of occupied Western Sahara. The sparkle of the Arab Spring

It was still dark in the very early morning when we heard sparkles of flashy lights and a strangling gas wafting around in fumes while troops of various types on the stand by
surrounding us from every side. I freaked out at the first rifle shot, and the sound coming
down the helicopter calling us on high speakers to leave the camp and join the waiting
buses. The helicopter stood roving around us with that recursive sound as if it were
coming out of a recorded tape to make us remember and understand its urgent
message “you must leave the camp, leave the camp now, and we’re going to solve all
your problems”. The police vans lights and their horn sounds added more fright to the
apocalyptic view.
I thought it was a nightmare when suddenly I woke up to find myself in front of the crazy
police and military truncheons. “Oooh! That hurts!!!!” I got it painful right around my arm
and down my ribbs. “That was not a dream”.
Hectic, I ripped off the tent back garment which was made of some old traditional clothes
worn by our women and run away. It was really an unusual morning to wake up with
sticks and truncheons struck against your body unmercifully. “Get the
mother f.. back!! He’s running away” a policeman shouted from the tent front
door. As I was fleeing away to rescue myself, women, children, men run on every
direction screaming and shouting, running or crawling, looking for themselves or
looking for their beloved ones. The sight got gloomier, and the
breath became heavy; the enemy was everywhere, and we definitely turned into a
helpless prey
I was about to faint out when all of a sudden I stepped over a woman carrying her
baby. I leaned my foot to avoid hurting her, she looked at me and said crying “help me
get up, please, my baby is in the tent” I took her up but her baby was under her arm
wrapped up in a small blanket: the gas had troubled her brain and she thought that her
baby was still in the tent. Firmly, I grabbed her up and took the baby in one arm while
holding her with the other arm. As I was moving outside the camp, the vision seemed to
be a little cleared up and the Saharawi Land Rovers and the four by four cars suddenly
appeared coming from every direction to rescue the miserable campers. I waved
vehemently to one just coming by us, he stopped and came to help mounting up the
woman and her baby. He insisted on me to get into the car, but I told him that I, first, had
to help getting women, children and old men out of this hell. As I was heading back to
the camp, a flock of Saharawi people crossed me running towards the car. The driver
packed them up, and vanished away amid the heavy dust.
Back to the camp, things then went further on to the worst. The random beating inflicted
on women and children became more intense. We, therefore, had to defend ourselves
and our people; some Saharawis grabbed sticks, others grabbed sauce
pans or anything handy scattered around, while others like I started stoning them so
we could have the time to rescue vulnerable people. On the other side, the enemy
started demolishing the tents, and the military trucks moving towards us in slow
motion. We adjusted our head shawls to cover our noses from the tear
gas knowing that if we succeeded into pushing them back the military trucks
would come to crush us down into the ground.
From the west north of the camp, other anti-protest trucks suddenly started shooting hot
water to the angry Saharawi crowds who saw their mothers, sisters, children screaming
hysterically. We felt we had to rescue them in the first place, but the confrontation was
far unequal. As any occupier, the Moroccans were, as they had always been, a bunch of
cowards who can only attack unarmed people; the 17 years’ war they had with the
Saharawi armed guerrillas had all been a failure. They never won a single battle, and
part of that failure was because the Moroccan soldier had no issue to fight for. They
knew they had been invading a neighboring country, and they always felt they were
fighting for an unjust cause. This time, though, the fight, they thought would be as
easy as a pie, was very fierce to the extent that they had to pull backward and hid
behind their transparent covers.
It’s strange that sometimes nature can feel your pain and decides to help you. the wind
suddenly took all the smoke back to the shooters direction, it was so strangling to them
that they couldn’t stand their hot masks. They started losing control and at that very
crucial moment, we seized the opportunity to get them further backward. Dagana, a
friend who was beside me, said angrily that we had to head towards them and beat up
their asses. I told him not to, because what we were up to at that very moment was to
rescue the women, children and old people. He looked at me and said.”Ok, then go and
take them away while we fight the bastards back”.
All the Saharawis talked and shouted at the same time, run to every direction and fight
back to defend themselves. Already some Saharawi women and children got encircled
by the oppressive forces and one could see them lying flat under the police and military
boots; they were beaten unmercifully and that was the time when we had to
intervene as quickly as possible even if that could have cost us our lives. It was in
fact, the only way to save the women and children from that lethal torture, and
this time we had to punish these ruthless forces. We beat some policemen hard till
they fainted out. At their sight, other coward policemen got scared and backed
away while others fled away running and looking back amazed every time a stone
got struck up their protective apparatus. We evacuated the women and children who
were unable to move out of the ground, some women were lying down strangled by the
toxic fumes. With great bravery, they were determined not only to survive but also to
fight back the enemy, but we urged them to go away and be transported by the saharawi
4/4 cars. I carried some children and women on my shoulders but I could say that some
of them were dying, or they might die on their road back home.
Now that the police had to run back, it was time for the military JMC trucks to advance
driving towards us; that’s when we fled away as they were pointing their old rifles
towards us and I could hear some live bullets now being fired upwards or downwards to
scare us away. It was not a fair game, and that was evidently the best time for any
occupier to flex his muscles.
ELaayoun, the city, was about 15 kilometers away from Gdeim Izik camp, and
there up to the horizon already the black smoke was coming out from different places.
The city was burning, and I and some friends kept running back to the city. I
tried to contact some friends on the cell phone, but all the communication lines
were shut down. A lot of occupier administrations were burned; they were the
incarnation of the occupier authority and they were a legal target to the Saharawi
militants. I ran for about 7 kilometers before a 4/4 car stopped suddenly and the
driver behind the dust called me to jump up and get a ride back to the city. There
were a lot of injured Sahrawis inside the car, and some were lying down
motionless. The driver informed me that a lot of people were left lying on the
ground, and probably could have died, but the police vans had to collect them up
to hide their crime. Passing by the road, we had to swerve sideways as some dead
bodies were left on the road or the road sides, and as we saw some military trucks
coming towards us, we had to take the desert road of which the Saharawis are the
masters. Looking back through the window and mounting dust, the trucks suddenly had
to stop here and there to pick up the bodies. The camp or back to town, everything was
under fire and fumes; it was the genocide.
At the entrance of the city, big rocks, burning wheels and Saharawis chanting
independence slogans and lifting up the Saharawi flag. The camp hadn’t been put up
for socio-economic reasons; rather it had been an outcry from the people of
Western Sahara against the Moroccan occupation, but the Saharawis had had to
say otherwise so as to make the world pay attention to their premeditated
forgotten issue; The camp had been set up to remind the world that the Saharawis
are under a horrible occupation, and that they want freedom and independence.
Our driver headed to the hospital which was down the city, but we had to change
our way as the road was blocked, and every time we could hear a bomb exploded
somewhere and the smoke came up from every corner. It was really the
apocalypse now. As we approached the hospital, another Moroccan type of force was
waiting for the injured Saharawis to beat them up, and take them to prison even
before getting any treatment, but what was the benefit of the hospital when the
Moroccan doctors refused to give any assistance to the injured people. Medicine is a
human job and a doctor is supposed to cure an enemy before a friend. Some other
Moroccan doctors called the police to inform them of the injured Saharawis rather
than supply any assistance. In front of such an unjust situation, we had to drive back to
anywhere we could shelter the injured people. The driver took them to a
Saharawi house and we hid them in. As I went out, the 4/4 car had already
gone. The confrontation with the police forces continued for about the whole day.
The phosphate administration was put under fire, and a truck carrying fish was set
on fire. It was a message to not only the Moroccans to stop plundering the
Saharawi resources, but also to say to the outside world and to all those who
conspire with the Moroccans and conspire in the plundering and theft crime to stop their
dirty game.
And over the streets and allies, the Saharawis kept rioting chanting independence
slogans, and the police forces firing rubber and live bullets and driving towards the
crowd to crush who ever dared standing up in the streets. The news of injured soldiers
and policemen had driven them crazy and decided to revenge on peaceful
demonstrators, but because they were afraid to get out of their vans, they started
inciting the Moroccan settlers, apparently teenagers and ex-criminals, to fight
back allowing them to carry white weapons, knives, sticks and swords. It was,
though, a funny thing to see as we started laughing at that anarchic view; the
soldiers inside the vans and Toyota land cruisers and in the front row, the
Moroccan settlers coming towards us incited and pushed to beat us. At the
police station, when they brought in an armed Moroccan by mistake, he was to be
released immediately and told to go back and continue beating up the Saharawi
rioters while the Saharawis were flanged in the police vans, beaten harshly, thrown in
prison cells and shoved to the ground amid more beatings and torture . Straight in the
same night, the oppressive occupying forces started to raid the Saharawi houses; all
the Saharawi houses in all districts have been brutally targeted with the collaboration
of the Moroccan settlers, and turned into a horrible mess.
Yet, the sound of people screaming, the hovering helicopter and the horrible views that I
had gone through got stuck in my brain for days and months, and I witnessed how
invisibility is a fertile ground of atrocities. These were moments I would never forget. The
screaming of a whole nation after 35 years of occupation and marginalization was
brutally silenced so as not to reach the outside world. But who ever thought that that
camp scream coming out of an arid desert would be a turning point not only for the
Saharawis and their fight for justice, but also an impediment that spread all over the
planet. The protest tent has become a symbol of the modern global revolution and there
it crossed all borders.

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