How did it all Start?
The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed in 1978 following Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s visit to Israel in 1977 after intense negotiation. One of the points in the agreement was the withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula which Israel had captured during the Six-Day War in 1967. However, the demilitarisation of the Sinai proved to be a difficult one as the United Nations were unable to provide an observation force due to a threat of a veto of the motion by the Soviet Union. After further talks between the US, Egypt and Israel a deal was struck and on the 3rd of August 1981, the Protocol to the Treaty of Peace was signed, establishing the Multinational Force and Observers.
Where is the Sinai?
Somewhere after the Summer of 1981, and after the agreement was signed, the MFO started to build the camps in the Sinai Desert, one in the North, El Gorah, and one in the South, Sharm el Sheikh. The camps were manned by soldiers from countries all over the world, but the majority of the forces were American. The Netherlands joined the MFO as well and sent around 100 soldiers per tour to the Sinai to perform various tasks. From my memory I believe the Dutch were mostly involved with communications and military police.
In the Autumn of 1981, when I was with the Royal Dutch Marines in Valkenburg, the news arrived that the MOD was looking for people to volunteer for the MFO. It took me seconds to decide to go and minutes to fill in the form, unfortunately so did many. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out a few weeks later that I was chosen to go with the very first party and stay for 4 months, which later became 6.
Prepping for the SinaiNow here’s where my memory is slipping… I think we went to a Dutch Army Base in Schaarsbergen, or somewhere in Drenthe, where we were prepped for the mission. After receiving a personal handshake of the back then Minister of Defense, Hans van Mierlo, we left Amsterdam Airport in January 1982 and flew to Tel Aviv where we arrived on a warm winter evening. I have no further recollection of that night, we might have stayed in a hotel and travelled on later or we travelled that same night. I do remember driving through the Gaza Strip at night, passing several check points manned with soldiers and witnessing this totally different world. Anyhow, we ended up in the North Camp, in El Gorah, and stayed there for a couple of days. I remember the wonderful sleeping bags that were given to us!
Beginning of a Great Adventure
The first days in the North Camp were easy going as we were waiting for further transport south. And man, was I happy that I was chosen to go to the South Camp as the North Camp didn’t seem very attractive and it was quite busy. We drunk many glasses of Pineapple juice in the canteen as they had specifically warned us during our prep training to stay hydrated. That was some good advice!