Lieutenant Colonel Bill Twiss, Military Assistant to the Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation, receives his UNTSO medal from Colonel Eamon Caulfield, the Deputy Chief of Staff of UNTSO.
23 August 2017
A New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) officer serving in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Israel has witnessed how decades-long tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians often boil over, sparking bloodshed.
“The violent history still influences current events and, as a result, seemingly trivial incidents can explode into days of riot and violence,” said Lieutenant Colonel Bill Twiss, who is the Military Assistant to Major General Dave Gawn, the Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) and the former Chief of the New Zealand Army.
In an incident early this year, four Israeli soldiers were killed and 15 others were injured when a Palestinian driving a truck ploughed into them deliberately. The attack took place at a scenic outlook overlooking Jerusalem and the Old City, not far from where Lieutenant Colonel Twiss lives.
Despite the frequent waves of violence, people somehow found a way to enjoy their lives, he said.
“They are not afraid to smile and are very welcoming, especially when they find out that you are from New Zealand.”
Established in 1948, UNTSO is the United Nations’ first peacekeeping operation and covers five Middle Eastern countries – Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt.
As part of his role, Lieutenant Colonel Twiss helps set the strategy for the mission and travels regularly with the UNTSO chief across the mission areas.
“The situation changes daily and the changing dynamics in international politics influences the situation on the ground,” he said.
Two of the rewarding aspects of his job were working with a diverse group of people and travelling in historic, if volatile, places, he said.
“Working in the Middle East on a peacekeeping mission and understanding the complexities of this region have been an incredible experience.”
Lieutenant Colonel Twiss is also the NZDF’s Senior National Officer in Israel and Lebanon, supervising seven other NZDF officers working as UNTSO Military Observers.
Born and raised in Wellington, Lieutenant Colonel Twiss joined the New Zealand Army in 1985 after attending Paraparaumu College. Four generations of his family, including two of his three sons, have served in the New Zealand Army since the Second World War.
He served twice in East Timor and was the Commander of the Joint Operational Health Unit before he left for a 12-month posting to the UNTSO in November 2016.