Who Needs the UN Observers, Anyway?

The billions they cost could have been used to resettle Palestinian refugees or to feed the starving in Africa. The time has come to end this farce.

Prof. Aryeh Eldad should use his scientific training to make sure that his political commentary be informed by the absolute minimum of intellectual integrity.
Aryeh Eldad
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Filipino UN peacekeepers cross the Quneitra checkpoint between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights, March 9, 2013.
Filipino UN peacekeepers cross the Quneitra checkpoint between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights, March 9, 2013.Credit: AFP
Prof. Aryeh Eldad should use his scientific training to make sure that his political commentary be informed by the absolute minimum of intellectual integrity.
Aryeh Eldad

Kudos to the Israeli army. Our troops helped rescue 30 Filipino UN troops from the claws of the Islamic State or the fangs of Al-Qaida in Quneitra. Several dozen of their comrades, UN soldiers from Fiji, are still in captivity.

So far, so good. But when we see those unfortunate men in their camouflage uniforms and their white armored cars, carrying the weapons they use only rarely (only when fired upon; more than 40 have been killed in their 40 years on the Golan Heights) and running away at the first opportunity, we can only ask: Who needs them anyway?

I am referring not only to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights, but to all the UN peacekeepers and troops who have been freeloading here since the War of Independence. They have been at most useless and at worst a hindrance. Once every two weeks they count the tanks and the artillery of the Israel Defense Forces on the Golan Heights to make sure that Israel is not violating the Agreement on Disengagement. What do they do in Syria? They flee or are kidnapped. Israeli intelligence does not need them to assess whether Syria is building up its forces on the border.

In the period of the Armistice Agreements (1949–67), their headquarters was in Armon Hanatziv, the Jerusalem no-man’s-land that took its name from the British high commissioner’s palace. Every time Arab fedayeen murdered an Israeli the observers would come, take photographs and send a report. In one horrific instance they claimed there was no proof the blood at the murder site was human in origin and not “donkey’s blood.” When the 11 bus passengers were murdered in the Ma’aleh Akrabim massacre, they refused to condemn Jordan, where the murderers had come from. On the other hand, they published sharply-worded reports after IDF retaliatory actions in Jordan and the Gaza Strip.

A special observer force was stationed in Sinai and in the Gaza Strip after the 1956 Sinai Campaign. This was a gesture to Israel after it withdrew empty-handed by order of the United States and the Soviet Union. The observers were supposed to make sure that the Straits of Tiran remained open, but when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser brought his army into Sinai and closed the straits, he simply told them to go away, and they did. And the straits were closed. When the Jordanians insisted on joining what they saw as a campaign to destroy Israel on the first day of the Six-Day War and entered Armon Hanatziv, the observers fled with their commander, Gen. Odd Bull, and allowed Arab Legion troops to take control of that strategic location. Four troops of the Jerusalem Brigade fell in the battle to recapture it.

The cease-fire agreements after the War of Independence, which were signed in Rhodes in 1949, evaporated during the Six-Day War. This did not stop the UN from demanding the return of observers to Armon Hanatziv to supervise the cease-fire, as they put it. Although the cease-fire agreement was replaced long ago by peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, the observers are still there. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s government, which at first resolved not to permit the observers from setting foot in Armon Hanatziv, gave in to the UN secretary general’s demands that they be reinstated so that they could monitor from there the Suez Canal, the Golan Heights and the bends of the Jordan River.

The observers were of no help during the Yom Kippur War, and in Lebanon they caused damage to Israel: Hezbollah terrorists operated right below their outposts, killing Israeli soldiers and seizing the bodies, and the observers never even reported to Israel what they had seen. But in Lebanon the IDF sometimes had to refrain from taking action so as not to hurt the observers.

They have cost billions, and nobody reads their reports. That money could have been used to resettle Palestinian refugees or to feed the starving in Africa. And they sit in Jerusalem like a bone in the throat, like the remnant of a foreign commissioner in Jerusalem, like the vestige of the demand to internationalize Jerusalem. The time has come to end this farce.

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