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From Lebanon and Israel
By Kevin McDonald
4, Jan 2015 - 00:09

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The suspension of the heavily armoured Toyota creaked and groaned as I tentatively eased through what could be roughly described as a track. This was however, not a track that would be familiar to many in Castlebar, as it was basically a path created by clearing away large boulders and scrub, thereby allowing farmers access to some marginal land where they could plant tobacco. For us it was a useful way to gain access to a dominant hilltop from where we could carry out our observation duties. The drive is not for the faint hearted however, as there is a minefield perilously close to the ill-defined edge of the track.
Crusader Cathederal in Tyre

The day started off as usual with breakfast in the Patrol Base before our two-man team headed off to pick up our Liaison Assistant, Norma, who is a Christian from the village of Deir Mimess. Norma has worked with Team X Ray for many years and indeed we were patrolling together on the fateful day in July 2006 when the war broke out between Hezbollah and Israel that would last 34 days and lead to over 1200 fatalities in Lebanon including four very good UN colleagues of mine.
However back to the present and the significant thing for me while patrolling in these obscure parts of South Lebanon is the ability to go to places that most locals cannot go to. Having an archaeological background, I tend to keep one eye out for the unusual in the landscape and this day was no different. While scanning the undulating landscape that rolled away from our hilltop I noticed what looked like an unusual rock formation. My Australian colleague suggested it might be a defensive position built during the 2006 war and laughed outright at my suggestion that if it was what I thought it was, it could be 4000 to 5000 years old. Needless to say this had to be investigated and after scrambling up a slight incline I was pleasantly surprised, to be able to explain to my colleague, that this had nothing to do with defence and had everything to do with collective burial in prehistory. We were staring at what, I was convinced was a megalithic tomb and not only that, but it was unrecorded in that it did not appear in any of the records that I would routinely check, so it was a ‘new' archaeological find.
Mack the Tour Guide

Now in Ireland this type of prehistoric burial chamber is termed a Wedge Tomb and would date between 2500 and 2000 BC but it is difficult to date comparable structures in the Middle East although a similar date range would seem probable. The interesting thing about this one is that there does not appear to be any other tomb recorded in the region. This is in itself not unusual as the area has been a bit of a battleground since 1978 so archaeological research has not been very active.
Sunny South Lebanon

Only a few days later while foot patrolling close to the Israeli Line of Withdrawal we needed to pass through a cleared lane in a minefield to check a position. Naturally enough, despite the fact that the lane has been cleared of mines, it is important to watch where you place your feet as smaller mines can move over the years due to soil erosion and also by animal movement. So with a wary eye on the ground in front of me we gingerly headed down this 1 metre wide lane, after about 50 metres I stopped and bent down, "What's there Mack" yelled my somewhat anxious colleague as he saw me picking up something. "You won't believe what I have just found" I replied as I turned, showed him a piece of a flint arrowhead and proceeded to launch into a condensed version of the prehistoric archaeology of the Middle East. "Only you" he muttered "Only You" as we continued on with the remainder of our foot patrol. The story of the mad Irishman who picks up ‘things' while going through a minefield has now become part legend, part fact and part fiction as it is repeated for the new observers that arrive every month!
Megalithic tomb

Well it has been 17 months since I arrived here as a new observer and the time has really flown. Ironically the south of Lebanon has been relatively stable despite the turmoil going on in northern and eastern Lebanon and in nearby Syria and I was thankful that in October I was able to bring my wife Clare out for a visit, her first time back since she and our two kids were evacuated during the 2006 war, when I served here previously.
Locals in Tyre

On the 10th December I carried out my last patrol in Lebanon, some 31 years after I went on my first patrol there. In the intervening years there has been too many Irish lives lost and indeed I still remember my own colleagues from UNTSO who were killed in an air strike while we were serving as unarmed Military Observers in July 2006: Major Hans-Peter Lang from Austria, Lieutenant Senior Grade Jarno Mäkinen, from Finland, Major (Posthumously promoted Lieutenant Colonel) Du Zhaoyu from China and Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener, from Canada, May they Rest In Peace.

By December the 12th I will have transferred to Jerusalem for my final 8 months. Having lived there for 7 months previously, I am really looking forward to it as it is a city completely steeped in history, a melting pot where the three great monotheist religions collide and survive with each other.
Christmas Day 2015
Two Legends

Tear gas and incense, rubber bullets and carol singing, not what you normally expect on Christmas day!! Having arrived in Jerusalem on the 12th December, I knew there wouldn't be any chance of going home for Christmas so I finished work on Christmas Eve, went to midnight Mass and then on Christmas Day (seeing as there would be no chance of going for a Christmas Swim!) a few of us decided to go to Bethlehem for a visit, in fairness it's not often you would get such an opportunity and we left Jerusalem in glorious sunshine, even if it was a bit chilly. We did not have too much trouble getting through the checkpoints and enjoyed a pleasant few hours rambling around the complex of churches that mark the site of the birthplace of Jesus. We started to drive back towards the checkpoint when instantly all of our mobile phones started displaying messages that there was some serious riots in Bethlehem and to avoid the area!!!. By this stage we could see the smoke and hear the rioting so there was nothing for it but to take a wide detour down a few narrow streets and seek an alternative exit, thankfully we arrived back in Jerusalem some time later none the worse for wear. Unfortunately, the security situation in Israel and the West bank has deteriorated and the two sides now seem as far apart as they ever were. It's a pity as there is so much to see in this country which has so many spectacular ruins such as Jericho, the oldest walled city in the world dating back to approx. 8000 BC, Roman Amphitheatres in Beit She'an and Caesarea dating from the 1st century BC to the 2nd century AD and some stunning Crusader castles such as Belvoir built in the 12th century. I am looking forward to getting out and exploring all that this place has to offer. Wishing you and your families a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year
Kevin Mc Donald

Jabal As Sheikh

Greek Catholic Church in Tyre

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Initially there were a number of churches built between the 4th and 6th centuries before the present layout was started. The original doorway is the highest lintel you can see, it was subsequently lowered to the pointed arch and then in the 16th century it was further lowered again to stop people on horseback entering and also to force the visitor to bow before entering the holy space.

Old City in Jerusalem

Two old soldiers due for retirement

I would like to dedicate this article to my mother Bernie who passed away all too suddenly on the 30th of September this year. She instilled in all of her kids a great love of books, language and writing, although I can imagine her scanning this article for my usual grammatical and spelling mistakes before she could settle down and actually read it!! Like my dad Paraic, they were both instrumental in creating a strong sense of travel, adventure and wanderlust in us all and this is, I suppose reflected in the series of postings here from Chad, Western Sahara, Mali, Lebanon and now Israel.
Rest In Peace Mam

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