I first served in the Gaza Strip in 1963, seven years after Lester Pearson’s diplomatic stick-handling led to the creation of the United Nations Emergency Force, the UN’s first peacekeeping force. I served there for two years, living with more than 1,000 other Canadian soldiers in Camp Rafah, just inside Gaza. I returned to the region eight years later, this time to Cairo and Ismailia as part of Canadian support for UN ceasefire protocols after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. I have returned to the region many times during the past decade.
In my opinion, the Israeli-Hamas conflict is the only one in the world where there is no hope whatsoever of the participants resolving the key issues on their own, by any means. Hamas makes no secret that, aided and abetted by Iran, it is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Any idea of a ceasefire in the current fighting leading to a change in Hamas’s dedication to Israel’s elimination is naive to the extreme. Any cessation of hostilities, no matter how temporary, will be used by Hamas to enhance its weapons arsenal in preparation for the next round of terrorist attacks against its neighbour.
On their own, Israel and Hamas are doomed to a perpetual state of war no matter how much international diplomatic horsepower is applied to resolving the conflict. But there is a solution that the world has been adroitly avoiding for 40 years.
Israel deserves security. Its population is prepared to live in peace with its neighbours providing they aren’t dedicated to its extermination. If Israel deals with the threat from Hamas on its own, the situation will not improve over the long term – Hamas will simply resuscitate itself and carry on with its terrorist actions against Israel. The Security Council needs to show some rare backbone and authorize a strong UN force under the UN Charter’s Chapter 7, which authorizes the use of deadly force as necessary, and deploy it within the Gaza Strip, taking on the responsibility to provide the security to which Israel is entitled.
The force would need to be strong enough to interdict weapons smuggling by sea, land (including by tunnel) and air from outside sources, to eliminate rocket attacks on Israel, to stop suicide bombers through use of border controls and, most important, to be strong enough militarily to take on Hamas if need be. The oft-expressed idea of putting international monitors into the Gaza Strip to control smuggling and the firing of rockets is ludicrous: Hamas would run rings around any unarmed outsiders whose only mandate was to “observe and report.” Such monitors wouldn’t even qualify as yet another Band-Aid solution.
Israel would not like this solution. It is extremely suspicious of the UN, which has all too often demonstrated anti-Semitic policies and statements thanks to the fact that most member states sympathize with such attitudes. Israel did not recognize the UNEF from 1956 to its withdrawal in 1967. In fact, when we had to drive through Israel to get some of our supplies in Lebanon, we were not allowed to get out of our vehicles while inside Israel.
The UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, has been accused by Israel – with some justification – of anti-Israel bias. Nevertheless, with a UN force deployed across the border from Israel and capable of providing the security desired by its citizens, the Israelis would soon see the benefits.
The UN has maintained a peacekeeping force in Cyprus since 1964. There has been no fighting between the Greek and Turk Cypriots for the past 34 years. The peacekeepers are now popular tourist attractions. When you arrive on the south coast of Cyprus, you can sign up for a bus tour of Nicosia, where you can observe the peacekeepers executing their boring duty in sentry boxes first manned by Canadian soldiers some 38 years ago. If you are polite, they will let you have your picture taken with them.
The UN Security Council and member states should be ashamed. While UN resources are providing peacekeepers in a country safer than most of our major cities, just across the Mediterranean, scores of innocent Palestinians are being killed because a terrorist organization with the stated aim of ridding the world of Jews is permitted to sacrifice its own people without protest or intervention by the international community.
Retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie was the first commander of UN peacekeeping forces in Sarajevo.