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Caught in the crossfire

Imagine being caught in the crossfire-stuck between opposing military forces in a foreign country, unarmed and unprepared. This is the experience that Matina Jewell, a former Major in the Australian Army, found herself in when Israeli invaded Lebanon in 2006. She is one of many guest speakers at this year’s Writers’ Festival, describing these experiences as a peacekeeper with former journalist Stephen Romei.

A large crowd gathered to listen to Matina, a local girl from Alstonville, as she described the experience of aiding the UN in Syria and Lebanon in 2005 and 2006. Having graduated from Duntroon military college at 24, this was to be her fifth overseas deployment in her fifteen-year career; the first unarmed. She described passionately her memories of her international teammates and their escapades; being the only Australian and female in a group of eleven spelled mischief.

The story of Oscar, the UN dog that assisted in ‘protecting’ them in Syria, brought many laughs for the audience. Matina described how, when jogging one day, Oscar had escaped and followed her. Now, she said, this wasn’t a problem, except for the fact that he had a chicken from a neighboring home clutched in his mouth, causing men from the community to follow in anger.

“So we had Oscar being chased by me, and a group of men chasing me, chasing Oscar.” Matina laughed. “I didn’t know what was happening.”

But it wasn’t all fun and games, as Matina recalled the moment, an hour after the bombing had started in July 2006, a few days before she was scheduled to leave Lebanon, a 1000-pound bomb flew past just metres from Patrol Base Kyiam, where she was stationed, targeting the Hezbollah base less than 100 metres behind them.

“I saw the bomb out of the corner of my eye, and the only thing I could do was yell for my teammates to get cover, before dropping and trying to protect what I could of myself,” she explained.

They managed to survive that expereince, but a week later, when conducting a scheduled team rotation, Matina was severely injured. The driver had attempted evasive driving to avoid debris on the road, and she was slammed into bullet proof glass at nearly eighty kilometres an hour. The glass won. Matina suffered multiple fractured vertebrae in her back and was evacuated to the safety of nearby Cyprus hospital. Her teammates weren’t so lucky.

“I got a text message while lying in hospital in Cyprus, saying the base had been hit…it just didn’t seem real. I wanted to go back to Lebanon to make it seem real again,” she quietly explained.

PB Khiam had suffered a direct hit from an Israeli 1000-pound bomb, killing everyone instantly.

Her book, Caught In The Crossfire, describes the human impact of war, and the sacrifice that so many personnel make in service to their country. It has the makings of an novel that you won’t be able to put down.

Amelia Turner-SCU media student

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