Skip to main content

Not a beach holiday, but PTSD for soldiers returning from UNIFIL mission in Lebanon

Enkhuizen,  5 april 2024             logo westfrieskrant

The director from Enkhuizen brings recognition to a forgotten mission with a documentary film.

Recognition, awareness and understanding.
These are words Enkhuizen director Jelmar Hoekstra of production company Playback Images uses to describe the importance of his new documentary 'In Service of Peace'.

Watch the 2-minute trailer here: update trailer 850 2

The documentary is about the UNIFIL mission in Lebanon, in which nine thousand Dutch soldiers - often conscripts - took part between 1979 and 1985.
Thinking they were going on a glorified beach holiday, they came under fire from various sides - including ally Israel.
Nine Dutch soldiers died during the peacekeeping mission.
Many returning soldiers suffer from PTSD following participation in this "forgotten mission".
Now, 45 years later, the situation has become painfully topical once again because of the war between Hamas and Israel.
Tensions are also high along the Israel-Lebanon border, where UNIFIL is still in operation.

Hoekstra quotes retired general Peter van Uhm, who served as a commander in Lebanon: ''At first we thought it would be a kind of beach holiday, with patrolling as the most exciting activity, but when the soldiers saw a devastated city from the windows of the plane, it became very quiet.

Continuing, Hoekstra says, "There were adverts on TV for a recruitment campaign showing soldiers surfing in Lebanon. The thought was: Everything will be fine. Nothing could be further from the truth, and they literally ended up in the hornet's nest of a complicated conflict that even the diplomats and journalists who were present at the time did not immediately understand. The military took regular shelling, even from the supposed ally, Israel. When Israel invaded Lebanon once again in 1982, in violation of the UN resolution that had made the UNIFIL mission possible, the UNIFIL soldiers were not allowed to intervene. They were trampled underfoot. A bizarre situation.

Van Uhm is one of the prominent figures in the documentary. As is NOS correspondent Daisy Mohr, who reports from the Lebanese capital Beirut. Together with the other protagonists, they give a good insight into the past and the present,'' says Hoekstra, who also features Nikolaos van Dam (former diplomat), Cor Aalbregt (company commander), Jan van Keulen (former correspondent) and Lieve Joris (author of non-fiction books about the Arab world, among other things) in the documentary. And naturally the veterans themselves, including Bert Kleine Schaars, Peter Broek and Auke Osinga.

westfrieskrant.850 7westfrieskrant.850 9westfrieskrant.850 8westfrieskrant.850 6
                                  westfrieskrant.850 4westfrieskrant.850 5westfrieskrant.850 10

In the one-hour documentary, Hoekstra outlines the circumstances in which the Dutch soldiers had to do their work in a very different culture - which also led to tensions and misunderstandings.
And how the military - as well as the Dutch politicians - were taken by surprise by the threats they had to face.

Making the documentary was an unexpectedly intense exercise for Hoekstra and his team. We are really used to it,' says Hoekstra, who has made TV documentaries such as 'Our boys in the jungle' (about conscripts sent to Surinam, ed.), 'A treasure chest of memories' (about Bassie and Adriaan, ed.) and the Videoland original 'Remco vs Pharma', about Remco van Wijk's fight against big pharma and his disease MS.
However, I was struck by the impact the mission still has on the people involved. All the veterans we talked to broke down at some point.
These are tough men talking about something that happened 45 years ago. That was striking and immediately showed how much they've been affected.''
And by extension, on their loved ones. There are many people who know little or nothing at all about this mission. Srebrenica is much better known. Hoekstra explains his motivation: "I love history and I think it is very important to learn from past events.

When I heard about this mission, I was immediately intrigued and wanted to do something with it. This is also because there is not a lot known about it to the general public. It was planned for this year, because it was 45 years ago that the mission started. However, the tragic developments in the region have brought the issue back to the forefront. I am glad that we have been able to capture this in the documentary and hope that many people will see it, because it also offers a weighted insight into an enormously complex conflict,'' says Hoekstra.

With the help of interviews with participants and archive material from various veterans' organisations and the NIMH (Netherlands Institute for Military History), Hoekstra was able to paint a complete picture. We are very happy with the result and I am also looking forward to going to the cinemas where the documentary will be shown. It is not that Hoekstra wants to admire his own work every time, but after each screening there is a discussion in the cinema where Hoekstra is present together with one or more veterans from the area who were active during the mission. I think it is very nice and special to be able to do that".

                                 westfrieskrant.850westfrieskrant.850 3westfrieskrant.850 2

The UNIFIL mission in brief

In 1979, the Netherlands received a request to participate in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, also known as UNIFIL.
The peacekeeping force was set up by the UN after Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1978.

westfrieskrant.850 12

Its mission was to restore peace and security in the area, control the withdrawal of the Israeli army and eventually return the area to the Lebanese government.
The Dutch contribution to the international mission, which continues to this day, ended in 1985. Nine Dutch soldiers were killed during the mission.

Where to watch.

The premiere of 'In the service of peace' took place on Wednesday 27 March in the MIMIK theatre in Deventer.
In the coming months, the documentary will be shown in several Dutch theatres.
On 10 April, the production will be shown at Cinema Oostereiland in Hoorn from 19.30.)
A day later, on 11 April, the documentary will be shown at Cinema Enkhuizen, also starting at 19.30.

The documentary will last for one hour plus a discussion with the director, Jelmar Hoekstra, after the screening of about 20 minutes.

 © Copyright - Westfrieskrant