“The UN's raison d'être is based on mankind's instinct to survive”

Writer Arnon Grunberg (1971) has been on various UN missions. During the school holidays in autumn 2018, he returned to the UNIFIL compound in Lebanon and took his 14-year-old godchild with him.

“I thought it would be good for his development to see what it’s like there. In the Netherlands, war and unrest are a world away, and there he could experience for himself how daily tension defines life.”

Things that Grunberg himself had never noticed before captured the fourteen-year-old boy’s attention. “He noticed how many stray dogs there were wandering around the compound. They are well cared for there, but it creates a perverse incentive for any Lebanese person who wants to get rid of their dogs; they just bring them there. In my view, those dogs are a symbol of how much the UN soldiers and the local community have become intertwined.”

Arnon Grunberg in Libanon. Source: Marianne Koeman

UNIFIL has been trying to maintain peace on the border between Lebanon and Israel for 40 years. The Blue Helmets are one of many groups trying to maintain an unstable balance between the two countries. “The border with Israel has been peaceful for quite a long time now, and that’s because no one has an interest in violent escalation.”

The importance of a supranational organisation is so great that it still exists 75 years later.
Arnon Grunberg

That’s why the situation in Lebanon is perhaps the perfect parallel for the role the United Nations plays on the world stage, says Grunberg. “History shows us that a single incident can change everything and shift the balance of power. It is to this that the United Nations owes its raison d'être. The importance of a supranational organisation is so great that it still exists 75 years later, although the effectiveness of the UN of course leaves something to be desired. More than anything, they have symbolic power, but don’t underestimate that power. The UN’s raison d'être is partly based on mankind’s instinct to survive. For now, there is simply no other alternative.”

Photographer main photo: Sander Voerman

For now, there is simply no alternative to the UN.
Arnon Grunberg
UN context

After the Lebanese Civil War, which started in 1975, various confrontations took place between the Israeli army and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) operating from Lebanese territory. The power vacuum allowed the PLO to carry out attacks on Israeli territory from southern Lebanon. A major attack on 11 March 1978 led Israel to occupy a piece of Lebanese territory. The UN Security Council then adopted a resolution calling upon Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was charged with the task of overseeing the withdrawal and restoring peace and security.

From 1979 to 1985, the Netherlands contributed some 9,000 troops to the force in Lebanon. In 2006, Hezbollah (a militant political organisation in Lebanon) began to launch attacks on Israel in the Israel-Lebanon War. The UN Security Council immediately called for a ceasefire. UNIFIL was also expanded with additional troops. UNIFIL blue helmets are still stationed in the region.