Israel’s Experience with International Peacekeepers During the 1967 Six-Day War, I was a soldier serving in Battalion 202 of the Paratroopers Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
We entered the Gaza Strip from south of Gaza City and on the first day of fighting, in the early afternoon, we were told not to open fire on a group that was due to arrive in an orderly fashion along the railway line. After about an hour a group of Indian soldiers with large Sikh turbans on their heads approached. They marched between the railway lines in neat groups of four, rifles slung across their shoulders with the barrels pointing downward, a clear sign that they did not intend to use them. This was UNEF, the United Nations Emergency Force, which had retreated from the area just before hostilities broke out.
UNEF had been installed at the end of the 1956 Sinai Campaign as a buffer force between Egypt and Israel after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip. However, at the moment of truth, just when the force was most needed to avert war, it evacuated in response to the request of the president of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, to UN Secretary-General U Thant. The UNEF withdrawal from Sinai was one of the main developments that precipitated the outbreak of the Six-Day War. The history of UNEF’s betrayal of Israel, no matter how it might have been legally justified by the UN, served as a formative event in shaping how Israelis look today at proposals for them to rely on international forces for their security.