The mass movement of settlers into the newly occupied territory began in 1975, and it’s been a contentious issue ever since. The people already living in these territories had launched an armed struggle in 1973, two years before the mass movement of settlers began. Their flag consisted of black, white and green stripes and a red triangle on its side, as well as a star and crescent. Refugees fled to camps across the border where they remain to this day. An armed resistance group was formed by students living in exile. Surrounding states became involved, armed conflict between nations resulted. An uprising known as the intifada began in 1970. Peace talks were held in 1991, beginning in Madrid, but the conflict sputters on to this day.
Does it sound familiar but some of the dates are a little off? Most people are unfamiliar with the conflict, and the international community pays little if any attention to it. What I am describing is the experience of the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara and their resistance to Moroccan rule. The Zemla intifada of 1970 is virtually unknown in the west, settlers from Morocco first arrived in their territory in the Green March of October 25, 1975 again virtually unknown in the west but oddly enough is the same year that Gush Emunim was founded, a settlement movement widely known in the west. The armed group formed in 1973 was the Polisario Front, formed by students on campuses in Morocco as “The Embryonic Movement for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro” about 6 years after the PLO, it evolved into the Polisario front. The refugee camps are across the border from Morocco in Algeria, and most African nations recognize the independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as most middle eastern states recognized the PLO starting around the same time. But the Western Sahara conflict, although so similar to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, has had very little attention from the media, no BDS movement has arisen to take up the human rights issues of the Sahrawi people. Campus activism on this issue is limited to Sahrawi students decades ago on some campuses in Spain. The parallels to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are apparent to anyone familiar with both conflicts, it’s so similar it can be described as eerie. Even the PLO and Polasario Front flags are almost identical. But the similarity ends with media coverage, one conflict gets intensive coverage the other gets virtually zero media coverage. The world has been silent on the conflict in the Western Sahara since 1973, while in the Israeli Palestinian conflict a soldier can barely sneeze without a storm of controversy erupting world-wide. Demonstrations in Laayoune are invisible to us, while Israeli cities are the target of intense media focus.
It’s a glaring example of how the media shapes and at times distorts our understanding of world events. What we are shown is not necessarily false, but its selective. And it impacts the views of the international community, campus activists, and anti-Semites of all stripes. Both the right and left omit the Western Sahara conflict while focusing intensely on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. It’s not a matter of fake news either, these events are occurring, the problem is the selective presentation of each
The intense scrutiny of Israel’s every action is evident in the stories which appear constantly, giving the term “ad nauseum” a new and even more literal meaning. Human rights violations should be addressed wherever they occur, and the media should show the full truth. Those who condemn and boycott in one situation but not in another parallel situation should examine their true motivations. We must bear in mind that fact checking services may verify the truthfulness of information, but these same services can be subverted by a failure to report the full news.
It’s not a tale of two cities, it’s a modern story of parallel universes, one with intense media focus and one with virtually zero media attention. What lessons can be drawn from this? Why are human rights advocates ignore the crisis in the Western Sahara but devote so much of their energies to the Israeli Palestinian conflict? What strategies are American Jewish leaders taking on these issues of the selective and biased focus of the media?