One of the activists who had taken part was sitting on the carpet at Abdelhadi’s, the house I went back to after the demonstration on Avenue Smara. He was called Mohammed Salim. I sat down next to him and asked him to tell me about his experience.
‘I loved it there,’ he said.
He was sitting with his legs stretched out on the woollen rug. Our host was preparing tea, the wash of hot water against the glasses mingling with the crackle of the coals on the stove as we talked.
‘I was unemployed,’ Mohammed Salim explained. ‘I was unhappy because it’s so hard for us to find work, so I joined the camp. I found freedom there, I was enjoying the desert more than seeing the Moroccan faces around us in the city. I was in the security attachment, I was like a sheriff.
‘On the 28th day, I was woken by the sound of the attack – guns and helicopters, people shouting. I saw the gendarmerie coming in with helmets and plastic shields. There were vehicles all around us – tanks, trucks, everything. It was confusing. You could hear gunshots, you could smell gas. I saw two gendarmerie picking up an old woman and beating her with batons, dragging her by the hair. I saw them grab a woman with an infant and throw her into a truck. They were shouting at us: ‘you dirty Saharawis.’ They called the women bitches. They used shameful words, they didn’t care, they kicked the women with their boots.’
Mohammed Salim managed to jump into a Land Rover and get himself back to Laayoune. But he was so angry about the way the camp had been destroyed that he joined a group of demonstrators protesting outside the central police station.
‘They didn’t care about our protest,’ he said. ‘They shot six of us, including me. They got me in the shoulder. But they wouldn’t treat me in the hospital so I had to use traditional medicine – hameiria and sheep’s grease – to ease the pain. Can you imagine how much it hurt? I could hardly move my arm. I didn’t get any proper treatment until a year later, when I went on the UN programme to the camps in Algeria and they treated me in the hospital.’
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