Lost Land (2011) - full transcript

25 centuries ago, Herodotus spoke of a very
noble breed of camels living in the Western Sahara.

He wrote that, when they felt they were being tracked,
the camels instinctively cut their veins open.
With their teeth. As if to breathe more freely.

Herodotus also wrote that what was good
for camels was probably good for men.

We left our city

in November of 1975.

We were sandwiched between
the Mauritians to the south

and the Moroccans to the north.

The only way to escape

was to go east.

We only had a few vehicles

to transport me and
my Sahrewi companions.

We left with almost nothing.

Just a few clothes.

En route to Uum Dreiga,

we drove with our headlights off.

In the dark, the cars kept hitting

trees and boulders.

In Uum Dreiga,

we came to a wadi

where we met other
Sahrawi people in flight.

After two weeks at that wadi,

we spotted a Moroccan airplane.

Its headlights were on.

Some of us immediately knew

we were going to be attacked.

But no one could imagine

what was about to happen.

I was...

distributing provisions
to some women

when I heard the motors

of four planes
coming from the north.

They immediately bombed
the first refugee camp.

People died instantly.

Women were running
in every direction.

The oldest ones
couldn't move anymore.

To keep us from getting away,

the Moroccan plane
bombed the camp again.

A bomb hit the infirmary

where a woman named
Chaiaa was giving birth.

Another bomb hit a group of tents

that belonged to
the Ahel Mechname family.

All 10 members of that family
were killed.

Pieces of their bodies went flying.

Then we sheltered the old people

under the acacia trees.

I remember facing my mother,

who was paralyzed.

Other bombs
hit the tents to the south.

There was fire. Children's bodies
were sprawled on the ground.

I walked around the mass grave
and ran into two men.

We were the only men
left in the camp.

We gathered up
the scattered remains of the victims.

Then we put them in bags.

We identified one woman's arm

by the bracelet she was wearing.

Her name was Mabi Bent Mechnane.

As for her husband
and three daughters,

we only found pieces
of their mutilated bodies.

We buried the remains

of those bodies in a hole
that one of the bombs had made.

In all, we filled two bags
with chunks of flesh and bones.

Some people
were hiding behind trees.

There was
Hammadha Ould Ahmed Zein,

Ahmed Haten and an old Lady.

When the pilot saw them,

he hit them
with a burst of gunfire.

They were all killed.

Only a goat standing next to them

survived the gunfire unscathed.

After that, it was total chaos.

Everyone fled into the desert

to move away from the campsite.

Mukhayyem. Literally, the camps.

Refers to the piece
of desert that Algeria

handed over to the Sahrawi
people in 1976, as a land of exile.

To escape the Moroccan troops
that had followed us,

we were forced to travel at night.

With the children in our arms,

the woman who had just given birth
and the old people.

We kept moving

until we reached a place...

A place that was...

a wadi.

We stayed there.

The planes turned up
and bombed Tifariti.

When the plane was hit
by our combatants,

we saw the smoke.
We saw it burning

from where we were hiding,
under the trees.

The women and children were crying.

There wasn't a single man with us.

All we had was our pain
to keep us company.

That went on until we got here,

to the Algerian camps.

And even here in the camps
it was hard.

We were hungry, thirsty.

Without our husbands or any means,

we had to take care
of our children, our elders.

The Moroccans
had killed our children.

They'd killed our brothers,
our husbands, our loved ones.

We were alone

and defenseless.

We had but one hope...

returning to our land,

freed from the people

who had attacked us.

You're listening
to a program in Arabic

on Sahrawi Arab
Democratic Republic Radio.

I'm signing off now
but please stay tuned for programs

hosted by Mohamed B?chir...

It's 8 a. m. in El-Aaiun,
in the occupied territory.

And it's 9 a. m.
here in the refugee camps.

The headlines...

The President of
the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

has asked the Human Rights
Commission to investigate

human rights violations
in the occupied territory.

Moroccan authorities
- our colonizers -

have freed Brahim Briesch
for health reasons,

following his hunger strike...

My named is
Fatma Sidahmed Beidellah Elhaj,

Sidahmed Beidellah Elhaj's daughter.

He disappeared in 1975.

At the time,
we were a nomadic family,

with no political ties.

I was little.

I don't remember many details.

But my family
told me everything.

I had three brothers.

My father was arrested at the start
of the Moroccan Invasion.

People had warned us
that the Moroccans were coming

and that we should flee.

The men left and the women stayed.

I remember my mother and the women...

who took care of the camels.

The men left early
in the morning to hide.

Each woman

took care of
one part of the trailer.

One day my brother and I

were riding a camel,
followed by my father's trailer,

when the Moroccan army popped up
and started shooting at us.

So we turned around.

They captured our animals,

took our property,

our clothes, our food.

That night, the men came back
without my father.

My father had poor eyesight,

so it was probably easier

for the Moroccan troops
to catch him.

So we got in our trailer
and went back on the road.

My mother was 9-months pregnant.

She had to deliver the baby
on the road.

She died a week later.

Then we go to Algeria.

My baby brother
died 6 months later.

And I left to study in Cuba.

My other brothers
stayed with my grandparents.

When I came back to visit in 1985,

I could see that
my brothers needed help.

My grandmother had gotten too old.

So I decided to stay with them.

That put an end to my education.

Now we're all married

and we all have children.

But we don't know what happened
to my father.

We need to mourn for him.

I was forced to be mother and father
to my brothers.

All we ask

is to be told
if my father's dead or alive.

Just like the families

of more than
500 other people who disappeared.

The Moroccans say
my father's in the refugee camps.

We need

to know the truth.

Even the youngest children
ask about it.

Every time I get back
from a political meeting,

they ask if I have any news
about their grandfather.

Trab es Sahil: Literally,

Land of the river
banks or Land of the west.

Refers to the Sahrawi territory.

9 km from El Hisam

El Hisam: Literally, the belt.

Refers to the wall Moroccans
built in the Western Sahara.

2400 kilometers long.
Completed in 1989.

The wall cuts the Sahrawi
territory inti two parts -

One occupied by Morocco,
the other controlled by

the Sahrawi People's Liberation
Army (Polisario Front).

A 1991 cease-fire has
kept the two camps

in a war of waiting and
attrition ever since.

11km from El Hisam

I'm a man of the desert.

I've always been a nomad.

Today, I'm old.

But I'm still a guide

to my companions.

If I know the desert,

it's thanks to my grandfather.

When I was a boy,

he taught me the art of silence,

to develop my hearing.

He taught me to listen to people,

but also to animals, stones,

plants, the wind.

Weeks after I'd met someone,

wherever it may have taken place,

he'd demand

that I describe in detail

what the people I'd met looked like.

He asked me to repeat

the words we'd exchanged

and their tone of voice.


he sent me to a nomad camp.

That's where I learned

that the circle of words

is very narrow.

The words of business even more so.

And that knowing the terrain

and its secrets

is the only subject

worthy of a life.

To understand and listen to space,

to read the winds, experience them.

Like the harmattan.
(A very dry and dusty wind)

How it rises.

Why it swirls.

When it dies down.

To know how plants taste,

the nuances of thirst.

To always live in the light

and not to despair.

Because everything is ephemeral.

My grandfather also said,

"Get to know your land.

Make it your weapon and your ally.

Because those who drive us away today

will come back one day."

It's that knowledge of the desert

that now makes me certain

that the Moroccan soldiers will fail.

They know nothing

about the space, its distances.

They're like wildcats,

who base their entire assault

on a single attack.

It would be useful

if they had a target to attack.

But they find themselves

facing nothing but ghosts.

Ghosts at one with the winds,

the cold,

the mortal burning of the sun,

the thirst of the desert.

And with the passing of time,

which wears them down and destroys.

How can they believe in a victory

that nature obviously refuses them?

That's what amazes me.

And what shows me

that the world has changed.

I can't believe that arms

are the only key to victory.

A war waged outside of time and space

is a madman's folly.

97 km from El Hisam

Abba Aloua Ah med-Mahmoud,

abducted in 1979 in Smara.

Abdellahi M'barek Sidi-Ahmed,

disappeared on November 20, 1987

in El-Aaiun.

Abdella Ramadan Mohamed-Lamine,

disappeared in February 1976

in Amgala.

Abdati Mohamed-Salem Brahim,

abducted on July 10, 1976

in Smara.

Abida Mohamed Suhaili,

abducted in December 1975

in Goulimine.

Abdellahi Abdelmajid Abdelouadoud,

abducted in 1981

in Tan.Tan.

Abidin Bouzeid Allal,

disappeared in January 1976

in Uum Dreiga.

Ahmed Brahim Ahmed,

abducted in El-Aaiun.

Bachir Lehbib Lebouihi,

disappeared in March 1976

in Smara.

Bachir Elmami El Hairach,

abducted on May 20, 1977

in El-Aaiun.

Bachir Selma Daf,

abducted in 1976

in Amgala.

Ballal Lehbib Ballal,

disappeared in 1976

in Tan.Tan.

Balal Daid Ahmed,

abducted on July 3, 1976

in El-Aaiun.

Ahel L Hala: Literally,
people of the void.

Refers to the invisible
presence in some dwelling places

of the deceased or ancestors
in the Western Sahara.

By extension,
it evokes the people arrested

by Moroccan authorities
who have disappeared.

78 km from El Hisam

On the other side of the wall,

there's the sea and other cities.

Dakhla, El-Aaiun,

Tarfaya, Bojador, Smara.

There's the Saguia el-Hamra.

The "Red Canal."

It's called that because

the water is colored

by the earth in autumn.

That's where I was born.

So were my parents

and my great-grandparents.

My most distant ancestor

also comes from there.

They say, when he died,

his disciples built a tomb for him.

The tomb caved in during the night.

They built him a new one.

It caved in the following day.

That's how he passed the nomadic life

on to his descendants.

Every year, before fall,

we all go

to the Red Canal.

In memory of our loss.

For the blessing of our ancestors.

Today the wall keeps us

from returning to our childhood.

7 km from El Hisam

Intifada: Literally, resistance.
Refers to the civil resistance exerted

by the Sahrawi population
in the principle

cities in the Moroccan
territory since 2005.

4 km from El Hisam

I became an activist
during the 2005 Intifada,

when nonviolent sit-ins
were still authorized.

One day I was taking a stroll
with a friend

and we were stopped
in the middle of the street

by the Moroccan police.

They said they'd been
ordered to arrest us.

They asked to see
our identity cards.

I said that we never
carried them with us.

They said, "We've come
to arrest you anyway."

That was on June 8, 2007.

In prison, there was a
man named Aziz Toshima.

He was waiting there to torture us.

There were minors there.
The oldest wasn't even 12 years old.

They were in a dreadful state.

They'd been beaten and had
spent the night on the ground.

Seeing the condition they were in,
we screwed up our courage.

Those kids told us not to be afraid.

They said we'd be beaten,

but not to change our story
when we were tortured.

My girlfriend and I were separated.

The interrogations focused

on the Sahrawi demonstrations.

Then we were tortured

and were held in prison
until midnight.

They photographed us,
wrote up our reports.

They said, ?Maybe you'll get independence,

but no Sahrawi will have
the pleasure of seeing that day.

We'll kill you
like we killed your parents in 1976

in Guelta,
Djeiria, Al Mahbes.

Once you're in the M'gouna prison
or the Black Prison

you won't be lucky enough

to see independence."

Our families came
and asked if we were there.

The police denied
that we were in prison.

After we were freed,
they continued to intimidate us

on the street and at school.

They claimed
we were Sahrawi combatants.

When the police arrested us,
they said,

"If you collaborate,
we'll give you money

and the latest cell phones.

If you refuse,
we'll follow you everywhere.

We'll keep your families
from getting jobs."

The police know that
Sahrawi women

are terrified of being raped.

So once they're imprisoned,
they threaten to rape them.

They start to undress them.

They say,
"Either collaborate or get raped."

If they refuse, they tear off
the rest of their clothes.

They beat them,

pull their hair, insult them.

And then

it's sexual harassment.

That's the first thing they do
to every woman who's incarcerated.

They do so many things
I don't dare to tell you.

Such horrific things
that no one can repeat them.

600 m from El Hisam

I was with other young people
at a sit-in on Skeikima Avenue.

We were arrested,

along with a European
who had taken some photos.

The police tore out the film,
which contained

pictures of young people
brandishing the Sahrawi flag.

Then they dragged us
to a police car,

punching us
and hitting us with clubs.

The policemen spoke...

in a crude way.

When I left the police station,

my face was all swollen.

After that, they arrested me
again several times.

The last time

was at the Daddach Avenue demonstrations.

That day, they fractured my hand.

You have no life anymore.

If you go out,
you're under surveillance.

If you stay home,
they knock at the door

and summon you
to the police station.

We had to stop going to class.

That's no life.

And they talk about human rights!

That only exists in propaganda
spread by the press.

Even children have no rights.

Women even less so.

The last time I was arrested,
they threatened me.

"We're gonna tear your clothes off
and rape you."

To intimidate me,
one of them unzipped his pants.

Then he undressed me.

Then two plain-clothes cops

held my hands and my feet.

A tortured came in.

He took a club

and beat the soles of my feet.

They were all black and blue.

Another policeman
from a section called El Azoua

pounded my head against the wall.

My whole face was swollen.

My mouth was bleeding.

My vision was blurry.

All the while,
they kept questioning me,

"Who are the people
who pushed you inti uprising?

Who gave you
the Sahrawi flags?

Who organized the demonstration?"

Legally, you can't be held in
custody for more than 24 hours.

We spent over 48 hours
at the police station.

My brother was held for six days.

The police pulled him in
without informing anyone.

And when my parents were worried
about his disappearance,

the police denied arresting him.

All Sahrawi are victims
of that treatment.

What happened to those 15 boys
who disappeared recently?

During my interrogation, they said,

"Confess or you'll meet the same
fate as the 15 who disappeared."

So they acknowledged
arresting those young people.

All those practices
have become commonplace.

That's what
our daily lives are like.

400 m from El Hisam

Once they reached the Algerian camps,

some men went in the other direction.

They had no bags and a little water.

They moved

in relation to enemy lines.

Often they were arrested or killed.

Sometimes they vanished into the sand

or the mountains.

But they never reached

the other side.

They got lost

and wound up back where they started.

They thought it was the lost land

of their childhood.

In fact, they had just

gotten back on the path of the exile.

But they didn't want to hear that.

Getting lost made them melancholy.

You'd think

they'd have wanted to cry.

But in their hearts,

they laughed.

Convinced they'd reached their land,

they acted like free men.

It was only later that they realized

they'd already gone mad.

Special thanks to:
Those who in Western Sahara helped

with the making of this
movie by their support,

contribution or testimony.

To Marie-C?cile Jamart for
her support and advice.

Also thanks go to:

Transcription English subtitles: pacoss

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