Behind the Headlines French Unifil Forces Reject Official Order Not to Fraternize with Israelis

When France sent its troops to join the United Nations Interim Farce in Lebanon (UNIFIL) the soldiers were ordered by their superiors not to fraternize with Israelis. The Israelis were not to be trusted, they were told.

But the fraternization ban isn’t working here any more than it did in Germany at the end of World War II. In fact, French soldiers of UNIFIL who flock to Israel on leave are embarrassed by it and frankly tell their Israeli hosts that it was unfair. A French Captain said, “I can see now that it was a calculated incitement. In the Middle East the only ones you can count on are the Israelis,” he said.

Duty with UNIFIL has turned out to be a burdensome and dangerous assignment, especially for the French who have already suffered casualties. They must be constantly alert for mines and ambushes as they patrol the difficult terrain of south Lebanon. They cannot differentiate between an innocent Lebanese civilian and a terrorist carrying concealed weapons.

REST AND RELAXATION IN ISRAEL

For rest and relaxation there is no place to go but Israel. Beirut is inaccessible and, in any event, is ravaged by two years of civil war and fighting between various factions continues. Israel is easily reached and is a safe haven. The resort towns of Nahariya and Tiberias have excellent hotels and all forms of entertainment and recreational facilities. Both are close to the Lebanese border and transportation is fast and efficient.

Hotel operators in Tiberias do not conceal their satisfaction over the boom created by the presence of UNIFIL troops, not only French but Norwegians and Nepalese. Nahariya has become the center for UNIFIL officers and soldiers on leave. Many participated in the town’s Independence Day celebrations last week.

In addition to providing recreation, Israel is feeding UNIFIL. The United Nations army gets most of its fresh vegetables, milk and dairy products from Israel. Replying to criticism in the French press that UNIFIL is not buying supplies from the Lebanese, a senior French officer noted that in Israel the supplies are concentrated at one source and there is no need to deal with individual farmers. Supply officers can pick up their needs at Tnuva, Israel’s largest form products distributor, without worrying about mines or booby traps on the roads, he said. The prices are fair and the business methods are correct.

TENSIONS BETWEEN UNIFIL, PLO

The friendly relations between UNIFIL soldiers and Israelis are in sharp contrast to the growing tension between UNIFIL commanders and the leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

While PLO chief Yasir Arafat promised UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim that his men would cooperate, other PLO leaders such as Yasir Abed Rabbo and Zahier Mouhsein have declared that the PLO does not recognize Security Council Resolution 425 of March 19 under which UNIFIL was established. They warned that they would take action against UNIFUL soldiers who attempt to prevent members of the PLO from carrying out their war against the “Zionist enemy.”

UNIFIL’s mission is to prevent terrorists from infiltrating areas of south Lebanon evacuated by Israeli forces. Gen. Emmanuel Erskine of Ghana, the UNIFIL commander, said in an interview in a Lebanese newspaper this week that his troops will act to restore Lebanese sovereignty in the south.

He stressed that the 1969 pan-Arab Cairo agreement that recognized south Lebanon as a staging area for terrorist action against Israel, was in direct contradiction of Resolution 425. “Our task is to prevent infiltration. If infiltration by the PLO continues, they will confront UNIFIL units,” he said.

UNIFIL has other problems with the Maronite Christian villagers in south Lebanon who were disturbed by the Israeli withdrawal. They do not believe the UN force is capable of preventing the return of terrorists to the region and fear that UNIFIL will not protect them if the terrorists return. Israel has suggested that the UNIFIL commanders make arrangements to allay the fears of the Christians and avoid friction with them.

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