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"I was impressed by the Lebanese population’s resilience"

Sandra Stewart-Brutschin, SWISSINT Communications, spoke to Captain Fabio Hostettler, Military Observer UNTSO, Middle East

22.01.2021 | Kommunikation SWISSINT

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Before Captain Fabio Hostettler sets off on a patrol on the Golan Heights in November 2019, he discusses the route with his team colleague.


 

You worked for the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) as a Military Observer, promoting peace in the Middle East. What were your responsibilities?
During the first six months, I was stationed on the Golan Heights and was responsible for monitoring compliance with the ceasefire agreement signed between Israel and Syria in 1974. In UN Resolution 350, the two conflicting parties agreed to the formation of an 80-kilometre-long demilitarised buffer zone and an adjacent "Area of Separation", where certain upper limits for weapons, equipment and forces apply. We monitored whether the parties were respecting the agreement by means of patrols, observation posts and inspections. In the second half of my deployment, I served in Southern Lebanon. My job was similar to the one I had on the Golan Heights: we patrolled along the demarcation line between Israel and Lebanon and checked whether the two countries were complying with UN Resolution 1701.

What were the challenges of this deployment?
COVID-19 presented some big challenges for us, too. We underwent a twoweek lockdown in March and it was difficult to maintain operations during this period. On our vehicle patrols, we bypassed densely populated areas and avoided leaving the vehicle except when absolutely necessary. To inhibit the spread of the virus, the mission decided to severely restrict freedom of movement, even beyond the end of the lockdown phase. We suspended all village patrols and meetings with local opinion leaders, known as Key Leader Engagements, until mid-May. In general, these activities are the most important sources of information for our assessment of the situation. Of course the restrictions on the mission influenced our personal freedom of movement, too. From March to July, all non-missionrelated activities were suspended and our movements were limited to the residential container at the camp, the patrol vehicle and our apartments.

What was your first impression when you arrived in the area of deployment?
I spent my first week in Jerusalem. Muslims, Jews and Christians from all over the world make pilgrimages to this holy city. Depending on which district of the Old City you are in, you will hear people speaking Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew or Yiddish. It is a true melting pot. As a UN military observer, I was expecting to travel to a conflict zone. In Jerusalem, I realised that the daily coexistence of the local population groups was largely characterised by cooperation rather than conflict. And this insight was reaffirmed over the course of my mission. Despite macro-political tensions, people seem to be able to organise their lives peacefully at a local level. They just find a way of coming to terms with the situation.

What are the biggest differences in relation to Switzerland?
In comparison with Lebanon, the challenges Switzerland faces appear insignificant. The Lebanese state is going through its worst economic and financial crisis since its independence in 1943. Since October 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 80% in value and the rise in the cost of basic foods and living space has driven many Lebanese into poverty. Around 50% of the working population is unemployed and the COVID-19 pandemic has almost completely paralysed Lebanon’s crucial tourism sector. In addition, the country is home to some two million Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who are putting an additional strain on its already ailing welfare system.

Have any experiences stuck with you in particular?
I will certainly remember the explosion that occurred in Beirut’s port on 4 August. At the time of the detonation I was in Tyre, around 75 kilometres south of Beirut, and yet I also heard a loud bang. Given the already difficult overall situation, it would have been perfectly understandable if the Lebanese had lost all hope at this point. This made it all the more impressive to see the resilience and resolve with which the population accepted this blow of fate.

Which experiences or lessons have you taken home with you from your deployment?
Both in Israel and in Lebanon, I was impressed by how warm-hearted and hospitable the people were. We Swiss are often a little reserved and it would do us good to be a bit more open. For many Israelis and Lebanese, Switzerland is the epitome of prosperity, security and stability. This helps to remind us how privileged we are here.

What will you be doing next?
First of all, I’ll be taking a four-week holiday with my girlfriend. After spending a year abroad, I am particularly looking forward to spending time with her. Professionally, I will be returning to the financial sector. I will complete my training as a Financial Risk Manager at the end of November and am currently looking for a job.

More exciting reports from the wolrd of peace support in the magazine Swiss Peace Supporter