IDF major builds infrastructure of hope in territories

Israeli Maj. Daniel Beaudoin is every inch a soldier.

Topping 6 feet, head shaved clean and movie-star handsome, he cuts an imposing figure in his Israel Defense Force uniform.

But last week, Beaudoin exchanged his fatigues for a tailored suit during an AIPAC-sponsored U.S. tour that included stops in Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and the Bay Area. His itinerary here featured a lecture at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills and a private briefing at the San Francisco office of AIPAC-American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

At the latter, Beaudoin proved he's as adroit in explaining the policies of the Israeli government as he is in enforcing them.

The major holds a challenging post. As deputy head of the foreign relations branch at the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Beaudoin is chief liaison between Israel and the various agencies providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

It's all about making civilian life a little better for the people living in the territories.

When a water main bursts in Hebron, when a senior citizen in Jenin needs dialysis, when a new ambulance route is required through Nablus, Beaudoin is the go-to guy.

Working closely with groups like the Red Cross, the World Food Program, the United Nations and others, he helps ensure that the basics of life — food, water and medicine — make it through the battle lines.

That in-the-trenches vantage point gives Beaudoin a perspective enjoyed by few others in and out of Israel.

"We have a strong but surreal relationship with Palestinians in the field," says Beaudoin of the Arab municipal workers his office engages on a daily basis, even during the worst violence. "Our staffs have an intimate professional rapport. They talk about each other's families and children. If it were possible, they'd invite each other to a wedding."

Given the ongoing terror of the intifada (Beaudoin, using army-speak, calls it a "low-intensity conflict"), those wedding invitations are on hold. For Beaudoin, that's a crying shame.

"We have no more people-to-people programs as we did after the Oslo accords," he says, "because Israelis are scared for their lives."

That reality informs Beaudoin's work as he strives to balance humanitarian needs with security concerns. With 94 suicide bombings and multitudes of Israelis and Palestinians killed in the last few years, finding that balance is never easy. But he is well-qualified for the job.

Born in the Belgian Congo to an Israeli mother and French father, Beaudoin could be considered a citizen of the world. Growing up in Vienna (where his father held a key U.N. post), he attended the International United Nations School. Upon graduating, he moved to Israel at the age of 21.

"It was on the spur of the moment," he says of his making aliyah. Beaudoin entered the military where he soon distinguished himself. At the same time, he studied for degrees in political science and international relations from Tel Aviv University. He is fluent in four languages.

With that kind of resume, it wasn't long before he rose through the ranks in the Israel Defense Force. Before his current job, he spent six years as foreign correspondent liaison officer, developing a smooth, mediagenic style that has served him and his country well.

As much as he would like to stay positive, he is harshly critical of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian leaders who, he says, keep the populace inflamed with hatred and victimhood.

"You cannot argue with misery," he says. "Arafat attracts European support with his dilapidated situation. He thrives on conflict. But it isn't working. We've had to turn away volunteers for our elite forces, as so many are trying to join up."

He's also very concerned about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the territories. It begins in Hamas-run schools teaching virulent hatred of Jews, he maintains, and continues with ceaseless exhortations for martyrdom.

But despite all the problems, Beaudoin continues to believe that someday there may be something like a happy ending for the region.

"There's been an infrastructure for terror for a long time," says the father of three. "But this job is as gratifying as it is frustrating. It's a calculated risk in the territories, but I think we can build an infrastructure of hope."

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.