The UN’s Middle East correspondent

Right in the middle of the world’s most complex conflict is a Norwegian Major General. Luckily, Kristin Lund has been out in the storm before.

Text by Anders Fjellestad • Photo by Torbjørn Kjosvold • Video by Torgeir Haugaard

"Jerusalem is such a fantastic city with so much history. Seeing it from here, you really can understand the importance of the city."

Major General Kristin Lund is standing on the balcony of the magnificent Government House – the headquarters of UNTSO, the UN mission in the Middle East. From here she can see right at the Temple Mount with its famous Western Wall and Dome of the Rock.

But the beautiful hillside across the valley is a symbol of the long-lasting conflict between Israelis and Arabs. In the past century alone, the religious hotspot has been ruled by the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom and Jordan – until Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967.

"You get different perspectives when standing here. You come very close to the situation", says Lund, pointing to her own staff at the headquarters. Everyone is represented here: Israelis, Druze, and Palestinians – Jews, Christians, and Muslims.


The
UN veteran

In autumn 2017, Lund took over as commander for the oldest UN mission in the world. The main purpose of UNTSO is observing and maintaining the armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbours. It is no easy task, a fact the gentle Major General is well aware of. But then again, Lund is one of Norway’s most experienced officers. She started her UN career back in 1986 – in the Middle East as a soldier in Lebanon.

"I immediately got hooked, and since then I have tried to get as much international service as possible. My experience from international missions has shaped me as a leader, in both good and bad ways."

I spend much of my time travelling between the five countries we operate in: Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria

In 2014, she took over as military leader of the UN mission in Cyprus, becoming the organisation’s first ever female force commander. Three years later, she took another step and became the very first female commander for UNTSO.

But for someone who started her military career back in the 1970s, Lund has gotten used to being the "first woman" in various roles and departments. She is also very relaxed about the fact that she heads a UN mission in the "middle of the storm".

"The job is very interesting but also challenging. I spend much of my time travelling between the five countries we operate in: Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria."

Little office time

She is not exaggerating. Travelling is indeed an essential part of her job. In the highly complex Arab–Israeli conflict, regular meetings and dialogue with the parties is a must. UNTSO has observer groups in South Lebanon and on the Golan, in addition to offices in all the five countries. Lund spends on average 24 hours in a car every week.

"I meet our observers regularly and I have regular talks with the foreign and defence departments in our five countries. In addition, I also meet with embassies, contributors, and non-governmental organisations", she says.

This means that her office in Government House normally is empty. But in February, she managed a whooping fourteen consecutive office days in Jerusalem – a new personal best.

"It was incredible. I was able to walk around in the building and spend a lot of time talking to all my employees", she laughs.


The art of balancing

As the UN chief in the Middle East, Lund needs to balance between all the actors and parties in the region. Even an innocent statement or a photo on social media can be misinterpreted and create commotion.

"The biggest challenge is acting correctly and being perceived as impartial. I try to use common sense, but you constantly need think about what you say – especially on social media", she says.

Social media is powerful, indeed. Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump recognised the Golan as Israeli territory. Last year, the President also declared that the USA recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Both declarations were made on Twitter, resulting in strong protests throughout the Middle East. That did not exactly make Lund’s job any easier, but the Major General is still convinced that the UN mission can make a difference.

"We are important because the parties must relate to us. Our people have regular talks with governors and local authorities. They ask critical questions, they monitor what local authorities do and report back to us", Lund points out.

She adds that the UN Security Council is the only international mechanism that can decide how nations must relate to each other in order to end conflicts.

“But not everyone is happy about the UN. That’s just how it is. I have heard comments like: ‘The UN has no function’, Lund says.

Her answer to that is quite simple:

“I tell them that if they are unhappy, they must address it through their national representation at the UN headquarters in New York City. I’m just doing my job.”

 Les mer om

 

 

en_241_kristinlunduntsoen_242_theunwantsmorewoment/en/newsroom/the-un-wants-more-women-to-serve/media/PubImages/kvinner-fn-tobb.jpgThe UN wants more women to serveJust 4 per cent of the personnel in UN missions are women and more than 30 countries do not have a single woman in UN service. The UN now takes steps to increase the number of women in its organisation. en_241_kristinlunduntsohttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedPages/DispForm.aspx?ID=136


The Return to Syria

A solution for lasting peace in the Middle East seems far away – however, the Norwegian general remains optimistic.

“You have to believe in the things you do, if not you need to find something else to do. Although the situation has not gotten any easier in the past year, we are also seeing some progress”, she says.

That especially applies to Syria, where the brutal conflict now is centred to some smaller areas. Last autumn, UNTSO returned to Syria after five years of absence. Now they are rebuilding observation posts and camps on the Syrian side of the Golan.  

“We are slowly returning and we can once again talk to the people in the area. These things are the bright spots in the situation, and we see that it matters to the locals that we are back."

Lund: more challenging than NATO

The UN might have a reputation of seeming slow and bureaucratic, but Lund underlines the importance of the organisation.

“A modern UN mission is a lot more challenging than a NATO operation, I would say. In a UN setting you need to take many more aspects into account. For example, you must be diplomatic and have a lot of patience, and you need to listen to the involved parties”, she says, adding:

“I know that if something were to happen in Norway, we are fully dependent on support from other countries. Indeed, we do have NATO, but we know that NATO operations depend on other countries outside the Alliance after some time. That's what makes the UN so important.”

 Further reading

 

 

en_241_kristinlunduntsoen_166_middleeast/en/exercise-and-operations/operations/middle-east/media/PubImages/HMKG_UNTSO_Brendefur_051115_03.jpgMiddle EastPersonnel from the Norwegian Armed Forces participate in several international operations in the Middle East.en_241_kristinlunduntsohttp://forsvaret.no/en/Lists/RelatedPages/DispForm.aspx?ID=128

Published 20 August 2019 13:24.. Last updated 29 August 2019 10:33.