Remembrance Day in a land where peace is elusive

Langley’s Derek Cooke played a small part for the RCMP in the Middle East peace process.

Langley’s Derek Cooke would celebrate 2014’s Remembrance Day overseas, in a part of the world long wracked by conflict.

That Nov. 11, the longtime RCMP officer took part in a ceremony in St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem.

“It had more of an emotional impact,” Cooke said of his first Remembrance Day overseas and away from his family.

Cooke was there to play a part in Canada’s attempt to keep the peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When he arrived, rockets were falling on Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Cooke, then the officer in charge of the Langley RCMP, had long wanted to take on an overseas posting before he retired from the force.

RCMP officers are often among the contingents Canada sends on various peacekeeping missions. They train local police forces in many aspects of modern policing, he said.

But Cooke joked that he was “too much of a princess” to take on a posting where he’d have to rough it.

When the job with Operation Proteus came up, he jumped at the chance to do international work in the midst of a city with a rich history.

He arrived in August 2014, during the last few days of what is known as the Gaza War. In his hotel in East Jerusalem, he slept through air raid sirens as crude rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel.

Cooke’s job was as part of a nation-building team working with the Palestinians in the West Bank.

“I always said what we were there to do was to equip and train the Palestinian security forces to ensure they’re a professional, human rights-based organization.”

The Palestinian Territories have all the problems of any other urban area, including ordinary crimes like speeding, theft, or domestic violence.

Their police forces need to be able to deal with those issues, and Canada, the United States, and other nations have been aiding in building up their civilian police, Cooke explained.

Operation Proteus is part of the Middle East peace process, with the long-term goal of ending conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

“It’s a mission designed to facilitate peace,” Cooke said, “in a part of the world where that reality has not existed for many centuries.”

Cooke’s part of that task was difficult.

The Palestinian Authority is cash-strapped, and their police lack much basic equipment.

For the 526 traffic officers in the West Bank, there were seven radar units, he said.

Three of them worked.

Their cramped police offices lacked space for evidence, so items needed for trials was piled up in public areas, such as under the fingerprinting counter.

Did he feel he helped with the peace process?

“It is difficult to feel a great sense of satisfaction,” Cooke admitted. “Time in that part of the world can be measured in centuries.”

He saw examples of the roadblocks peace will face. It wasn’t just spontaneous terrorist attacks in the region, or the simmering battles in the Gaza Strip.

Cooke saw it in obscene gestures or spitting by one side or the other, sometimes by children encouraged by parents.

Yet he loved his time in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

The people were warm and hospitable, and the architecture and landscapes were breathtaking.

“You can be in a coffee shop across the street from 2000-year-old ruins,” Cooke said.

He returned home in 2015 and has since retired from the RCMP. He is now general manager at the Langley Events Centre.

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• Policing the military a ‘thankless,’ essential job

• Remembrance Day video features Cloverdale cenotaph, Veterans’ mural

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Canadians with Operation Proteus found time to play a little street hockey in Jerusalem.

An exercise in riot control tactics for Palestinian police forces.

Walls criss-cross many parts of the West Bank.

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