In 2006 war broke out between Israel and Lebanon – we saw it on our televisions, and we felt it through colleagues with family caught in the midst, but I would be first to admit I had no understanding of it.
We often talk about the woman in a male dominated industry and the challenges she faces, but at the time this war broke out, Matina Jewell was the only woman serving as a peacekeeper within the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) – operating across the borders of Syria, Israel and Lebanon. Not only was she the only woman in this UNTSO team, but she was in hostile territories, unarmed, and within an operating structure that would leave her alone at the remote UN base, the size of a tennis court, guarded by a dog and a simple wire fence, situated within 75m of a Hezbollah base. She was left to drive alone at night on unchartered roads through the back country of Syria, and within her first two weeks in Lebanon, was physically assaulted by two men. Not a pleasant work environment for anyone – even someone who carried the titles, high performance and military accomplishments of an Australian Army Major as Matti did.
But then war broke out, and a new form of courage and resilience was required. After days of near misses, Israel bombed that UN base by Hezbollah quarters, killing all UN personnel there at the time – Matti’s team mates and ‘brothers’. Days prior, Matti had left that base and was commanding a convoy that also came under attack; she was left with five fractured and crushed vertebrae, lying for days in excruciating pain on a concrete floor, before eventually getting a medical evacuation.
Here was a woman who had given over 15 years of service to one of the most selfless occupations you could choose – she had performed under pressure and with courage in situations of questionable adequacy in support and protection, had accepted the dangers that came with her career, suffered the loss of teammates who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Matina was eventually retired from the Army as a result of her injuries – but her battles were not over, she became subject to a bureaucratic standoff between the Department of Veteran Affairs and Defence, in her quest for a medical discharge. When she needed her country, rather than the gratitude, recognition and benefits she was more than entitled to, she hit a brick wall.
I am reading Matina’s book, Caught in the Crossfire – it is an insight into the world of a peacekeeper in the Middle East, and the beauty and history of this part of the world that has been so savaged by war. It is also the story of a remarkable woman, who has courage beyond what I can relate to. Matina is also one of the keynote speakers at this year’s ‘Fearless’ event with She Business in Sydney – and there are tickets still available!
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