The term ‘colonialism’ is one associated with the past, with European and Ottoman conquests, with the age of empires. It is certainly not a term one might associate with the political fabric of the contemporary world. Presently, the world appears to have moved past colonialism and its tentacles - imperialism and occupation. This, however, is not the case in certain regions, including Palestine and Western Sahara, among others.
In 1948, historic Palestine was occupied by Zionist forces in the wake of the signing of the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement. In what is known as al-Nakba (the catastrophe), approximately 750,000 ethnic Palestinians were displaced and forced to flee their homeland for surrounding countries in the Middle East. Hundreds more were injured and killed by Israeli soldiers. Despite the many atrocities committed as a result of the creation of Israel, it was deemed legitimate under international law.
The occupation of the West Bank - a Palestinian territory - in 1967, however, was illegitimate under international law and is still illegitimate today. Known as al-Naksa (the setback), 1967 saw Zionist forces invade numerous villages in the West Bank and forcefully evict thousands of Palestinians who were then rendered homeless.
Today, Palestinian territory is subjcted to military occupation by Israel which is in no way one dimensional. Zionist soldiers who are members of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) patrol the streets and infringe upon the movement of millions of Palestinians, all of whom are scattered across the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and what was once historic Palestine but is now the State of Israel.
Presently, the situation in Palestine is both bleak and dire. On a daily basis, Palestinians are profiled by Zionist soldiers and police officers. Palestinains have their movement restricted, are often subjected to arbitrary arrest and body searches, and cannot travel to or enter certain areas in their own country. If Palestinians are found protesting or attempting to exercise their international right to self-determination, they are taken into custody by the IDF, and even physically assaulted by soldiers.
The Israeli occupation of Palestine, despite being deemed illegal under international law, continues unfettered. This is as a result of the power held by Israel and the inability of Palestine to compete with such economic, military, and physical might.
Western Sahara is a rather peripheral issue in comparison to that of Palestine, even though Western Sahara, too, is under military occupation. Western Sahara, which was once under Spanish occupation, was then colonised and taken control of by Morocco.
Morocco, at the onset in the late 1970s, attempted to seize approximately 80 percent of the land of Western Sahara, land which belonged to the Sahrawi people prior to Spanish colonisation. Besting Mauritania, Morocco was able to overpower the Sahrawi people and occupy a majority of Western Sahara from the coast to the hinterland. Once Morocco gained control, settlements were put up in Western Sahara, despite these being illegal under international law.
Today, Morocco stringently controls both Western Sahara and the Sahrawi people. The Forces Armeés Royales (FAR) enforce Moroccan domination over the entirety of Western Sahara, stopping the Sahrawi people from exercising their freedoms.
The Sahrawi people are often oppressed by Moroccan soldiers and police officers, and even by Moroccan settlers. Within occupied Western Sahara, a hierarchy has developed; one which sees the Moroccans emerge as superior while the Sahrawi people fall short and are treated in an inferior manner.
Western Sahara is an incredibly impoverished territory and relies heavily on financial assistance from Morocco - Morocco uses this reliance to its own advantage. This results in extended suffering for the Sahrawi people. Because they would be helpless without Morocco, they need their oppressor to survive. This pattern effectively engenders the occupation.
Not only are the Sahrawi people deeply affected by poverty and their reliance on Morocco, they are also subjected to the military might of their occupier. Morocco is in possession of sophisticated weaponry and a massive army, whereas Western Sahara has only simple weapons and a liberation movement composed predominantly of civilians who employ only nonviolent methods of resistance.
Although the fact that Morocco has seized a majority of Sahrawi land is illegal under international law, there is little the Sahrawi people can do to counter this. In fact, the little that the Sahrawi people have done has proven to be unsuccessful.
Occupation ad infinitum?
Both Palestine and Western Sahara have been illegally occupied since the twentieth century and it appears that these occupations will continue for some time. Both are backed by the United States of America. The U.S. has always been a close ally of Israel as it preserves American interests in the Middle East. Morocco is a more recent ally of the U.S. - only since the Abraham Accords were signed.
It is likely that the occupation of Palestine by Israel and the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco will continue despite being illegal under international law. This is due to the fact that both have powerful allies and the populations they are oppressing are incredibly weak.
International solidarity is imperative to the liberation of the Palestinian and Sahrawi people and is a cornerstone in their journey toward freedom.
About the author:
Humairaa Mayet is incredibly passionate about issues of social justice and strives to make a difference in the world through as many avenues as possible. She spends her days listening to music, cooking and baking, attending protests, and raising her plants.