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Contested comparisons

Contested Lands: Israel-Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Cyprus and Sri Lanka
Sumantra Bose
Harvard University Press, 2007, $19.95

Canadians have a lengthy record of military service on Cyprus, in Bosnia, in the Israel-Palestine conflict and in Kashmir, where the death of Brigadier Harry Angle remains Canada’s highest-ranking peacekeeping casualty; a significant Tamil diaspora and the numerous asylum and refugee claims of Tamils on our West Coast keep Sri Lanka prominent in our headlines.

A comparison of the peace process attempts in each of these five “contested lands” is the topic of the most recent book by Professor Sumantra Bose. These five “conflicts” continue as tinderboxes on the international stage, threatening world stability – some of the same actors Canadians confront in Afghanistan are active in Kashmir.

A major theme arising from this comparison is that “peace processes will not emerge and peace settlements will not materialize in ethnonational sovereignty disputes without external, third party engagement.” As a proponent of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and as a key contributor to the NATO campaign in Libya, such a view would appear to resonate with many Canadians across the political spectrum. Bose, however, provides a caution: there are limits and pitfalls in any use of “incrementalism as a peace-building strategy” because of the number of indigenous “spoilers.”

Bose further identifies the need to anchor peace arrangements in these ethnic conflicts in “wider transnational networks of cooperation and integration that enshrine regional economic and security alliances.” However, he overlooks, when considering Cyprus, the potential utility of NATO in such a role while noting the importance of the European Union. Major external shareholders and traditional antagonists, Turkey and Greece, are significant long-standing NATO partners.

Also missing is any reference to the fact that four of the five contested lands were at one time British colonies or protectorates – how the British dealt with the demand for independence in these four colonies, in contrast to ethnic conflicts in Malaysia and or in Nigeria, might have enhanced his comparisons.

As a recent treatise on the issue of peacemaking in contested lands, Bose brings to bear his considerable research from previous books on Kashmir, Bosnia and Sri Lanka. Certainly, comparative analyses such as this give insight and provoke our thoughts on ongoing conflicts that have been unresolved for half a century.

Major Farran’s Hat: Counter-Terrorism, Murder, and Cover-Up in Palestine, 1945-1948
David Cesarani
William Heinemann, 2010, $25.00

A street in the Jerusalem neighborhood where I lived while serving with UNTSO is named after Alexander Rubovitch. It is hard to imagine that this 16 year-old youth, abducted on 6 May 1947, while undertaking a delivery for the Jewish Resistance movement Lehi, has any connection with a one time Alberta Solicitor General, but indeed this “disappeared terrorist” does. Major Farran’s Hat explains.

When Major Roy Farran died in Calgary in 2006, some of the obituaries mentioned “wrongful accusations” and “allegations,” but most dwelled on the World War II exploits that made Farran one of the most decorated British soldiers of that war. Farran’s own account of these adventures, Winged Dagger, is described by some as a classic.

Author David Cesarini’s account of the “guilt” of Major Farran in the murder of Alexander Rubovitch as been discussed at length; Jewish “terrorists,” including some who later became Israeli politicians, thought him guilty – Farran’s brother, Rex, was killed by a parcel bomb sent to R. Farran.

Of more interest to Vanguard readers should be what Cesarini says about the employment of soldiers and police, out of uniform, in counter terrorist squads such as the one that Major Farran led as part of the Palestinian Police Force.

“The final tragedy of Roy Farran…is that it helped justify shoot-to-kill policies on three continents from Palestine to Northern Ireland,” Cesarini writes in his epilogue. He considers this to be the “ulimate significance of the Rubovitch affair” and it is a thread that runs throughout Major Farran’s Hat. The incident serves “as a warning of everything that can go wrong when young warriors are directed by desperate and unscrupulous politicians.”

Lack of intelligence sources may have been a factor. Knowing that the British would be leaving sooner or later, informants necessary for police intelligence dried up, Cesarini suggests, resulting in the “imposition of an alien body of men, most of whom had no police experience and a greater willingness to use force.”

Unconventional methods may be needed to win a counterinsurgency conflict, but when these activities become unlawful violence, they then become counter-productive. By Cesarini’s account, there appears to have been no overview mechanism of Palestinian police, Kenyan pseudo gangs or such similar special counter-terror units.

Readers can decide for themselves whether, in view of the secrecy surrounding our own JTF 2, such oversight could have been set in place in the declining years of British Imperial rule.

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