Is it time for UN peacekeepers in Gaza?

The idea that they will make things better is an illusion. Look at the record.

fatah house damaged 88 (photo credit: AP)
fatah house damaged 88
(photo credit: AP)
A recent news story reported that the government of Israel is considering agreeing to a United Nations peacekeeping force in Gaza. One would think that after Israel's experience with UNIFIL, the UN force in southern Lebanon, Israeli leaders would have said "Never again." But Israel has found that in Gaza, occupation, trading land for peace, and unilateral withdrawal do not work, and the mystique of peacekeeping may have enticed decision-makers in Jerusalem. That mystique is an illusion, but it is one that is actively promoted by the UN. For example, on May 29th the UN observed the fifth International Day for UN Peacekeepers, honoring the men and women who serve around the world. Since the end of the Cold War, the number of peacekeeping missions has multiplied with uncommon speed. There are reportedly more than 100,000 peacekeepers from 115 countries currently serving in 18 operations on 4 continents, with additional deployments on the horizon. According to the UN, they are doing useful work keeping warring parties apart, disarming armed forces, and protecting refugees and children. Some of this may be true. Some peacekeepers may have served with distinction. But is it the whole truth? THE DATE of May 29th for international peacekeepers day was chosen because it is the date in 1948 when the first UN peacekeeping mission, the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), began operations on Israel's borders. Although there have been no truces to supervise for a very long time, UNTSO still exists with headquarters in Jerusalem. UNIFIL, which was established in 1978 to end lawlessness in southern Lebanon, had a record of cooperating with the PLO, when the PLO dominated and terrorized that region and launched terrorist raids into Israel and around the world. UNIFIL used to return the PLO's weapons when confiscated, give it advance warning of searches for concealed weapons, and supply it with sophisticated communications equipment. UNIFIL even hired PLO contingents to guard its offices in Beirut, and individual UNIFIL officers were caught smuggling explosives into Israel for use by PLO terrorists. (Interviews conducted by this author with UNIFIL contingents in 1981 revealed widespread hostility towards Israel.) FOLLOWING Hizbullah's murderous raid on Israel last summer, UNIFIL reportedly supplied real time data on Israeli troop movements into Lebanon on its Web site for Hizbullah to read. The enlarged UNIFIL created under Security Council Resolution 1701 last August has done nothing to disarm Hizbullah (which replaced the PLO in southern Lebanon in the 1980s) or to stop arms smuggling to Hizbullah and Palestinian terrorist groups in Lebanon, including the group Fatah al-Islam, which clashed this spring with the Lebanese army. In this sad story the Fiji Battalion stands apart. It followed orders to return weapons, but reportedly broke the trigger fingers of the PLO terrorists caught returning from killing sprees into Israel. PEACEKEEPERS in other parts of the world have not done better. It was downhill after the UN peacekeepers were awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1988. Peacekeepers in Bosnia were reported to have sold their supplies on the black market. Peacekeepers in Cambodia were reported into sex, booze, and drugs parties. One peacekeeper contingent sent there was reportedly composed of convicts and mental asylum inmates who were promised their freedom if they served in Cambodia for six months. Peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were reported implicated in the massacre of villagers. Others in the DRC were reported to have sold weapons in return for gold to Congolese militia groups they were meant to disarm, according to a BBC report. These militia groups were guilty of some of the worst human rights abuses during the Democratic Republic of Congo's long civil war. A UN investigative team sent to gather evidence was obstructed and threatened. According to the BBC, the team's report was buried by the UN itself to "avoid political fallout." In at least two African countries, peacekeepers sexually exploited the women and girls they had come to protect. In one they demanded sex from hungry females in return for food. A New York Times editorial condemned the practice and said that "far too little has been done to end the culture of impunity, exploitation, and sexual chauvinism that permits" it to go on. On May 29th, Undersecretary-General Jean-Marie Guehenno, head of the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations during many of the scandals, admitted to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York that discipline in the field must be improved. But he claimed that the problems were not his responsibility, for, he said, it is up to the troop contributing countries to agree to disciplinary measures. Why he cannot insist on reviewing applicants for peacekeeping operations and insist as well that any country wishing to participate in UN peacekeeping operations must accept UN disciplinary measures for its contingents engaged in dishonorable acts was not made clear. Nor it is clear why Israel would consider agreeing to a peacekeeping operation in Gaza, given the peacekeepers' record of malfeasance and cooperation with Israel's enemies. The writer serves as President of UN Reform Advocates.