On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

Having Worked as a Liaison Officer in Israel

July 2011
International Peace Cooperation Assignment in the Golan Heights
Kumiko Morino, Cabinet Office

What does the word "Israel" remind you of? Historic holy places that were once the center stage of the world history? The Dead Sea, which has the lowest elevation on the earth's surface? Or the Middle East peace process?

Israel is too complex and diversified a country to sum up in a word. Since 1996, Japanese staff officers and unit personnel have been deployed in the Golan Heights, and I have worked in Tel Aviv as a Liaison Officer for six months, creating the necessary coordination between the Japanese personnel and relevant organizations. From my point of view let me show you Israel and the Golan Heights, where Japanese personnel are engaging in the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force ( UNDOF ).

Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since the Six-Day War in 1967, and UNDOF has been deployed to monitor the disengagement of both the Syrian and the Israeli forces. The main duties of Japanese personnel are transportation and storage of goods as well as road repair work.

A view from Mt. Bental, the Golan Heights

A view from Mt. Bental, the Golan Heights

The Golan Heights is blessed with rich nature and fertile land, in contrast to the southern desert area. Melted snow gushes out of Mount Hermon (2,814m/9,232ft), which extends over Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. At the present day, the legendary clear water is vital to Israeli daily life. That is a major reason why they have been fighting for the Golan Heights.

Under the sometimes shaky circumstances in the Middle East, UNDOF and its Japanese personnel are drawing attention and are expected to play an increasingly active role.

With the Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi, center, at a reception commemorating the SDF

With the Japanese Ambassador Haruhisa Takeuchi, center, at a reception commemorating the SDF

I heard about the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake on the Israeli news. As soon as I learned of the catastrophe, I contacted the families of the Japanese personnel back in Japan and confirmed their safety. While the bulk of the Self-Defense Forces was deployed in the afflicted areas in such a tough situation, Japanese ministries in charge of peacekeeping operations nonetheless conducted their business as usual, successfully minimizing the impact of the earthquake to the operations in the Golan Heights. It struck me that the Japanese personnel were trying to share the victims' feelings by fulfilling their duty overseas, although they were eager to fly to the stricken areas and support disaster relief activities.

Israel dispatched a medical team belonging to the Israeli Defense Forces to Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, and supported medical activities. Words cannot convey our gratitude for their kind assistance all the way from Israel. Men and women are both enlisted in Israel. The Israeli activities this time gave us a glimpse of the IDF's high mobility, readiness to help, and self-containedness.

The Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun

The Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum at Latrun

Apart from the military, Israel prides itself on its cultural and artistic uniqueness and sophistication. Being a multiethnic society, Israel has a special taste in music, painting, and dance, to name a few. I took a modern dance class every weekend, and found the innovative choreography and the rhythmic style very fresh. My instructor often told me, "Partner dance is something like aikido." I had not imagined an Israeli taught me "Japanese" culture such as "ki-o-awaseru (unifying spirit)" or "ma-ai (timing or pause)"!

Tel Aviv, where I stayed, has developed since 1909, being the youngest among other Israeli towns, most of which have a long history that originated before the Common Era. Novelty is the source of the city's explosive energy, and visitors are convinced of the appropriateness of its long-established slogan, "the city which never stops." I hope this lively, bustling city will keep absorbing various things in the world and develop into a new symbol of Israel's charms.

The SDF personnel will continue working in the Golan Heights. I am ready to be of any help to Japan's international peace cooperation, making the most of my precious working experience gained in the Middle East.

A view of Tel Aviv from Yafo

A view of Tel Aviv from Yafo