Operation PROTEUS: Building a Palestinian security force
Sitting in the US Consulate General’s office in Jerusalem, Colonel Fred Lewis, Task Force Commander Jerusalem, realizes he has come full-circle. Twenty-two years ago, he was a young major serving with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization in the Middle East.
“I remember driving from the Golan Heights down to Jerusalem,” he says. “In those days, there were no barriers that separated the West Bank from Israel proper. There were no IDF [Israeli Defence Force] checkpoints. It was just a road that went through a whole bunch of really nice little Palestinian villages.”
Things have changed, and they started changing with the First Intifada in 1987 – Col Lewis’s family was visiting him for Christmas when the hostilities started. The First Intifada was a period of Palestinian civil disobedience against the Israelis with the end-goal of creating their own state.
Today, Col Lewis heads Operation PROTEUS, the Canadian contribution to the US Security Coordinator office. The USSC works with the Palestinian Authority to develop Palestinian security capacity in support of the Middle East Peace Process. Ensuring that the Palestinians have a competent and effective security force is the first step toward building a long-term, peaceful and sustainable two-state solution to a conflict that has caused regional instability for more than 60 years.
“We’re really trying to support the Palestinian Authority in creating an effective, enduring and trusted security sector rooted in the rule of law,” says Col Lewis. “It’s all in order to create a sense of confidence and get rid of any apprehensions that Israel might have with a Palestinian state next door.”
Op PROTEUS, though military in origin, has grown to encompass a whole-of-government approach, with team members from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian International Development Agency, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency all bringing their expertise to the table. Col Lewis emphasizes that “the mission will only be successful with the partnership of other government departments.”
The 18 CF personnel on Op PROTEUS work with British, Turk and US personnel at the USSC to make sure the Palestinian security forces get the training and equipment they need to maintain order in the West Bank.
“The Canadian contribution is invaluable,” says Lieutenant-General Keith Dayton, the US security co-ordinator. “We simply couldn’t do this job without the Canadian contribution … [and] the incredibly talented people who have been sent to the region by the Canadian government.” PROTEUS personnel have some degree of involvement in almost all areas of the USSC’s work, including such non-traditional military areas as justice, and borders and crossings, thanks to a very successful whole-of-government approach.
CF personnel deployed on PROTEUS are heavily involved in helping to create a command support capability for the Palestinian security forces. “The Palestinians are doing command and control in basic ways and we’re going to take them forward to digital command and control, not significantly different from what the Canadian Forces uses,” Col Lewis says. “We’re talking modern command and control equipment—things like computers, projectors, software and training—things the Canadian Army was only figuring out three to five years ago.”
CF engineers are involved in infrastructure projects such as helping to design camps to house battalion-sized units of the National Security Force. Because Canadian sappers know what security infrastructure should look like, they provide invaluable advice to the Palestinian architects, engineers and contractors who actually build the facilities.
CF personnel in Jerusalem are also helping the Palestinians develop a logistics capability for their security forces. “We’re developing that right from the strategic down to the tactical,” says Col Lewis, “helping them write policy through to setting up a basic logistics and maintenance officers’ course.”
The work is challenging and the complexity daunting. The biggest challenge, Col Lewis says, is probably trying to understand who all the players are and what they do. This includes the USSC itself, the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, the many different Palestinian security forces, the Israelis and all the other international actors.
“When we got started [in 2005], and even as late as 2007, the Palestinian Authority was dealing with Fawda which is loosely translated as ‘chaos’,” LGen Dayton says. “You had a very rudimentary sense of law and order and the people felt very insecure. Now, I don’t think it’s a stretch to argue that, through very hard work, the Palestinian Authority security forces have brought law and order back to the West Bank.”
He attributes much of this to the efforts of the newly trained National Security Forces. The NSF are initially trained by the Jordanians, with funding from the USSC, at the Jordan International Police Training Centre (JIPTC) where a significant portion of the training focuses on human rights, proper use of force and supporting the rule of law.
“The discipline and the morale of the units that have been trained in Jordan are incredible,” says LGen Dayton. “When they come back, they believe they’re building a Palestinian state. The Palestinians have taken the lead in re-establishing security and law and order in the West Bank over the last two and a half years, and the difference is like night and day.”
All of the USSC’s initiatives are initiated at the request of the Palestinian Authority and involve close co-operation with the Palestinian Ministry of Interior. Canadian personnel often supply the key communication link between the Palestinians and the USSC via a PROTEUS member fluent in Arabic.
“This is something Canada provides that I simply couldn’t live without, and that is incredibly talented and qualified Canadians of Arab descent who are part of the team,” says LGen Dayton. “They are not only interpreters and translators, but they are also key advisors to Op PROTEUS’ commander and to me on matters dealing with Palestinian society and the Palestinian Authority.”
Captain Nasser El-Beltagy is currently serving in that position. Born in Port Said, Egypt, he moved to Canada when he was 15. He particularly enjoys being able to interact with the Palestinians and help them communicate with the USSC. “Imagine this,” he says. “We go inside a room and we all introduce ourselves, and then I introduce myself in Arabic. I say, Salâm Âaleykum, and, right away, it breaks the ice because they feel that the Canadians are sincere about their help.”
Capt El-Beltagy’s contributions to the mission are crucial and varied, Col Lewis says. “Nasser is my personal assistant, my staff officer, my translator, my cultural advisor and he drives, too. The combat multiplier of somebody like that, who understands the Canadian culture, the Canadian military culture, plus the cultures that exist over here, is just huge.”
One of the things Capt El-Beltagy enjoys most about his work in Jerusalem is seeing the difference that he makes. He has been on Op PROTEUS for seven months now and is due to return home in five, once his year is up. “I would like to stay even longer,” he says. “They say in two years there is hope to have a Palestinian state, so I want to be part of this. I want to tell my kids later, ‘I was there, in Palestine, or Palestine-to-be.’”
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