Reflections on peacekeeping in Egypt & Palestine

Let them sign what they like. False peace will not last. – Yasser Arafat after the signing of peace agreements between Egypt and Israel.

Lieutenant Kristy Miles was with the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai Egypt set up as a result of the original UN peacekeeping force in 1947. Under the agreement between Israel and Egypt, Palestinians are confined to the Gaza Strip thus making it the largest open air prison in the world. Here is Lt Miles’ reflection on deployment to the Sinai in 2020. Her most powerful recollection was of a video she saw of a Palestinian woman trying to bottle feed her baby in Gaza. Here are Lt. Miles’ recollections given in Anzac Square in Brisbane /Meanjin as the keynote speaker at the Australia Peacekeepers annual celebration organised by the United Nations Association of Australia. Her keynote speech was given on 28th May 2022 before the governor of Queensland, Jeanette Young, to a crowd of peacekeepers, military, united nations community of ambassadors, consuls and volunteers from India, Rwanda, Turkey, Cyprus, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and the Queensland Country Women’s Association.

Meanwhile the apartheid state of Israel’s merciless war against the Palestinian people continues apace with no UN intervention, no peacekeepers. This is despite the UN’s sponsoring the settler state of Israel in the Middle East. The Australian Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs, Dr H.V. Evatt, as President of the United Nations Assembly oversaw the partition of Palestine into the apartheid state of Israel. This resulted in al Nakba (the catastrophe) for the Palestinians in 1948. – Ian Curr, 30 May 2022.

Lt Kristy Miles: Good morning, Your Excellency, distinguished guests, family, friends. I’m beyond privilege to stand before you and share some of my reflections on peacekeeping. Knowing that you who stand before me have made extraordinary contributions to the effort. Thank you for lighting the way. 

Of all the images and video I saw in my time as serving as part of Operation Mazurka. There’s one image that still haunts me. The image is of a Palestinian woman living in the Gaza Strip, who sat crouched in the dirt beside an open fire under a tarp bottle feeding her baby. My immediate thoughts were questions like was that breast milk she was using? If so, how does she keep it cold? Is it formula? If so, does she have a steady supply? Is it in date that she needs to water it down to make it last? I lived in Canberra first world city and even I dealt with formula supply issues have been limited to two tins per purchase when it wasn’t already sold out.

These questions raised around my mind and led to my immediate memories of bottle feeding my own son. As a first time mum, I was incredibly pedantic in matters of hygiene around his food preparation. I remember scolding my very patient husband, because he had used tap water instead of cooled boiled water to make up Tommy’s formula. Or he had used this water God forbid, instead of the sterilizer when cleaning, humorous now to look back upon, especially these days when I find Thomas sharing his plate of food without dogs, not encouraged, but also not certainly prevented.

But that image was just a glimpse into the life of a mother feeding her child in the harshest of circumstances.

This image was a glimpse into how we are allowing large areas of humanity to survive. This image of a woman who could be me and a child who could be my son. The UN International Day of peacekeepers is observed as a chance to pay tribute to personnel, both uniformed and civilian, for their invaluable contribution to peace, as well as observe the more than 4000 souls lost serving under the UN flag since 1948. As briefly mentioned, my peacekeeping experience late in my time deployed on Operation Mazurka.

 Operation Mazurka is the Australian Defence Forces contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers commonly referred to as the MFO. The mission of the MFO is to supervise the implementation of the Egyptian Israeli peace, treaty of peace and employs best efforts to prevent any violation of its terms …”best efforts”.

The UN’s 2022 message on this day is ‘people peace, progress, the power of partnerships’. Today I would like to share with three reflections that speak to today’s theme and how they are shaping my pathway. People self destructive ignorance, or consuming greed, turning happiness into a commodity, the weaponization of fear, and grotesque narcissism.

These five behaviors while expertly summarized by Christopher Waltz have been contemplated, argued and demonstrated throughout history as inherent flaws of humanity. In my experience, self destructive ignorance was usually my greatest barrier in conveying an assessment. It was at times incredibly frustrating relaying trend analysis based evidence that spoke to an inconvenient or uncomfortable truth. Just to be told, I don’t believe that’s happening.

Disrupted ignorance is not about belief. It is about ignorance of evidence. I learned our best efforts as humans is to ensure we are not banding together, disingenuously to acknowledge an issue and then dismiss the evidence because it is too problematic to act upon. I understand the responsibility to be aware of inherent flaws, and actively find ways to combat them.

Peace in 2020, I was underprepared for what peacekeeping really meant. I often tried unsuccessfully to understand why there is peace, and why there is war … until it was put to me recently in another way, who benefits from peace? And who benefits from war? Does it really come down to all consuming greed and the weaponization of fear?

To save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war, UN founders chose those words for the charter on the back of two devastating wars. It is argued by some that we are currently living in the most peaceful era of recorded history. This statement, however, means very little to the humans currently living through the atrocities of the 20th and 21st century. When you think of the technology and lessons we have today, and then overlay them on to places such as the Ukraine, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, the list goes on. How can anyone truly justify this as the most peaceful era? Or is that or is this their intent, rationalizing this as our current best efforts at peace?

I’ve learned our best efforts navigating to a global understanding and live definition of peace is going to take time. I understand the responsibility to not become complacent while this time goes by.

Progress, the MFO is a meaningful example of progress in peace. It is not perfect, but it is working. I reflect on Einstein statement that peace is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law of order. In short of government. No war is the first step to that progress. I learned the best efforts of humans facilitating meaningful and lasting progress to peace doesn’t always look how you think it will look. I understand the responsibility to be patient.

The UN has embraced the observance of international days such as international day of UN peacekeepers, as powerful as a powerful advocacy tool. In an effort to contribute to the awareness and action required on issues such as peace. I would like to close with these thoughts on the power of partnerships in terms of family.

The MFO was not my first deployment, but it was my first peacekeeping experience. And it was my first time deploying as a mother. My son was just 11 months old when I left. I missed many firsts. First birthday, first steps. But I’ve gained an insight into peace and a possible meaning of life. There had I not been a parent, I believe I would have missed.

So while I understand you’re just becoming acquainted with me. If I may be so bold as to add another P. to today’s things been Parenting. It is my firm belief that peace starts in your home. If you have been afforded the privilege of parenthood, you have a larger part to play in world peace than you may initially realize. As parents we need to be thought leaders, models of acceptable behavior, safe places for growth, development, resilience, and failure in order to facilitate future ambitions of peace. If we are practicing peace in our homes, there is a better than good chance you are going to send peace into the world. I am of the belief that an individual can make a difference. The next step is understanding that you, your children, and the people they influence will be those individuals. Thank you for your time.

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