The research made by French expert on protection from nuclear radiation, Pierre Barbie – and published by the French magazine France Bleu – caused a great stir in Algeria and France alike.
Barbie revealed that France was aware of the remnants of the nuclear tests it had carried out in Algeria in the 1960s, after it was recently affected by the Algerian desert sands containing radioactive particles carried by the wind.
At the time when the inhabitants of the “Chapelle de Bois” region in the heights of the Jura mountains grew extremely alarmed, the Algerians saw it as a new opportunity and solid proof that supports their outstanding demands from the French nation to fully recognize its crimes, as well as compensate for all the losses and lives that had fallen in Algeria during the colonial period.
What consolidated the Algerian demands and further encouraged them was French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent recognition of the fact that the Algerian freedom advocate Ali Boumendjel was tortured and then killed by the French army during the Algerian war of liberation.
A Study That Renews Hopes for the Stricken City
In the district of Tamadanine, one of the poor neighborhoods of Reggane in the Algerian desert, Abdelhalim Ammar, 33, and his brother Issam, 21, live with their family of 6.
The two brothers only leave their home at night, due to a rare eye disease they suffer from as a result of the influence of nuclear radiation, leaving them unable to see sunlight.
“Our way of life has become like that of bats’, we wait for the sun to set in order to leave our house,” thus Abdelhalim, the older of the two brothers, begins his story with Raseef22. He says, “The symptoms began to appear during childhood. I could not see during the day anything but a yellow light in the shape of strings that made it very difficult for me to walk alone on the road. With time, my condition unfolded more and more, and the doctors told my parents that the sunlight will completely make me lose my sight if I was exposed to it.”
“I was condemned to stay home during the day when I was only ten years old, which resulted in me having to leave my schooling during middle school,” the young man says in anger before he continues, “The terror that the French South has been experiencing since that report was published, we have been living for decades. Its effects are still claiming victims and disturbing our lives to this day.”
The affliction of Abdelhalim and his brother is not a rare happening in the Algerian region of Reggane, where France had detonated the first ever nuclear bomb with a force of 70 thousand tons of explosive dynamite on February 13, 1960 – in what came to be known as the Gerboise Bleue nuclear test (or the ‘Blue Jerboa’ experiments). The nuclear testing caused an ecological and humanitarian catastrophe that continues to birth defects and cancerous diseases to this day.
Inhabitants of Reggane, #Algeria are still suffering from nuclear radiation after France tested a bomb in their vicinity in 1960. Only when a sandstorm took sand particles to France and affected white people did we appreciate the dangers Algerians face.
Abdul Rahman Altoumi, head of the El Ghaith Association in Reggane, spoke to Raseef22 about the nature of the situation in that region, saying, “The area rests on tons of waste and is widespread with chronic diseases caused by the spread of radiation. We have more than 30 different types of cancer cases in the Reggane region annually, in addition to cases of birth abnormalities and malformations, and an increase in the rate of motor and sensory disabilities among children under the age of ten. This comes along with a range of mysterious medical conditions for some of the elderly that doctors have been unable to diagnose.”
Altoumi concludes by saying, “I am absolutely not gloating over the arrival of the radiation to France. The last thing I want to see is more people suffering from nuclear and radioactive contamination. I just hope that the French community will now realize the scale of the crimes committed by their colonial machine against the Algerians, and that Paris will respond to the repeated Algerian demands to clean up these sites, just as Russia did in Chernobyl and Japan did in Fukushima.”
Confession of Murder to “Appease the Memory”
While the recent French research on the arrival of radioactive sand particles to France renewed the Algerians’ hopes for the success of their efforts to recover their material and moral rights from France, another event that has taken place also increased those hopes and strengthened their determination to move forward with their demands.
French President Emmanuel Macron has recently admitted that the famous Algerian patriot Ali Boumendjel had been tortured and killed by the French army more than sixty years ago. His admission took place while hosting Boumendjel’s grandchildren at the Élysée Palace in order to honor them in an apology of sorts. It was also an admission of guilt to the family that refused to believe the French account continuously insisting that he had “committed suicide” from 1957 to the present day. The correct version, however, states that he was thrown from the sixth floor of a building after being subjected to brutal torture at the hands of the French Army General Paul Aussaresses’ squad, as punishment for his essential role in publicizing his country’s plight at home and abroad – all while working as a lawyer and journalist for the French-speaking Al-Musawat newspaper.
The French admission of the old crime was welcomed by the Algerian authorities, according to a statement by the Office of the Presidency: “President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has stressed on more than one occasion that the memory dossier is a sensitive issue that requires dialogue without any pre-set backgrounds, and through such an initiative, Algeria and France can move forward within an environment of stable and calm relations, in order to reach true reconciliation and multi-faceted cooperation.”
But despite the recent steps taken by France – such as the recognition of the killing of the French communist and supporter of the Algerian revolution Maurice Audin, the return of a number of skulls of popular resistance leaders in Algeria that were on display in the Museum of Life in Paris, as well as the recent admission of the torture and killing of the freedom activist Ali Boumendjel – public anger is still present. Also, doubts about French intentions never ceased, especially after Macron refused to present an official apology for the crimes committed in Algeria, preferring to present symbolic actions to “appease the memory”, as he put it.
Researcher Mohamed Wa’lali rejects the term “nuclear tests” and, during his meeting with Raseef22, states, “The things France did are explosions, not experiments. Its aim was criminal and meant to dump their poisons in the desert and Algeria in general. France is currently playing on the wording and terminology in order to escape from the current reality, and this, we reject as researchers. What it did in the Reggane desert are full-fledged explosions. We are awaiting official pressure from Algeria to be placed on the French government to recognize what it committed during its colonial period in the country, and for the international community to hear the extent of the horror that Algerians have been living in for more than sixty years, as its echo has reached the French suburbs today.”
For many decades, France concealed the reality of the location of its nuclear tests in Algeria... leaving the citizens of the country it occupied for so long prey to disease and misery
The two nations agreed to form a joint committee to negotiate four historical files related to the Algerian archives – during the colonial period – held in France, cases of missing persons, the French nuclear explosions in southern Algeria and the compensation for them, and the use of forbidden weapons.
But Algerians are not satisfied with the points raised before the committee, and many of them are demanding the recognition of other points, such as Bilal Bara, a history professor that told Raseef22, “There are other files that aren’t any less heinous and must be addressed, such as the skulls of Algerian resistance fighters – many of which are still being held in Paris – the incident where Algerian demonstrators were thrown into the Seine River in the French capital, death sentences carried out against Algerian activists, and acts of genocide enacted upon entire tribes and villages…”
Human rights lawyer Fatima Zohra Bin Barahem fully agrees with Bilal’s statement, stressing that the Algerian authorities should not accept conceding the legitimate demands of Algerians. She also emphasizes that France must completely recognize its war crimes in full and compensate for most of the losses and lives that fell during the colonial period.”
The recent developments in the French memory dossier indicate a new complexity looming in Algerian-French relations.
The emergence of the two reports addressing the issue of sand saturated with nuclear radiation, and the recent admission of the killing of Ali Boumendjel, made Algeria increasingly hold on to demands for the full recognition of all French crimes against it – along with compensation for the transgressions – while Paris continues to hold on to a policy of recognition that is only given in small increments.