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Film brings peacekeeping mission to life: UNIFIL veterans relive Lebanon experience in Deventer

Hengelo, March 31, 2024
Text:  © RTV Oost / Teun van der Velden.
Camera: © RTV Oost / Marcus Ganzevles. 

For UNIFIL veterans, it couldn't be more topical:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It was 45 years ago that some 9,000 Dutch men and women served in Lebanon to keep the peace on behalf of the United Nations.
This week, those memories were rekindled by the premiere of a film about those days in Dutch cinemas.

Veteran Bert Kleine Schaars is used to being in the limelight. Not only as a UNIFIL veteran, but also as a councillor in Deventer.
And yet there is a hint of nervousness as he walks around the MIMIK theatre in Deventer. "My hope is that everyone reacts well," he says.

In the meantime, the lobby of the Theatre aan de IJssel gets crowded. Dressed in suits or uniforms, veterans of all ages are gathering.
It was a real reunion. They had come to Deventer for the same reason: to see the first showing of the film "In the Service of Peace".

Film about UNIFIL veterans in Deventer premieres

"We come from Friesland," say veterans Otto Koopmans and Remo Jonkers. "It is like being in a club all over again.
We recognise each other's stories, even though we were all in Lebanon at different times.


These stories are then told on the opening night. And this is exactly what the initiator, Bert Kleine Schaars, wants to achieve. "Many veterans have come with their families.
I also hope that they will be able to talk to them about what they've experienced and that this film will help them in doing so. It is still very difficult for a group of veterans to be able to talk about that time.
There are those who are glad to see the mission back in the spotlight, and those who feel it's no longer needed. It's different for everybody.

The Mission's inception in 1978 was at the height of the Lebanese civil war, when Israel was in occupation of southern Lebanon. After years of tension, it was the final straw.
The United Nations intervened. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, restore international peace and security in the border area, and assist the Lebanese government in reasserting its authority in southern Lebanon.

At least 15% among 10,000 Dutch soldiers that served Lebanon from 1979-1985 returned with mental health problems.
An important topic this evening, and one that Kleine Schaars is happy to discuss. "Fortunately, I have never had the kind of mental problems that some of the veterans have.
But you have to imagine that when we came back from the mission, it wasn't spoken about".

A number of guys suffered damage there

platoon commander Hans van der Louw

And for many of the veterans, that only made things worse. "Those around us, family and friends, thought we were on some kind of holiday.
So there would often be questions about whether it had been fun, and then everyone would be back to business as usual. But many of us came back with very intense stories.
Hardly anybody listened. Or even worse, the veterans themselves didn't want to talk about it.

1024x576 1e foto                                  The premiere of the film "In the Service of Peace. -  Photo: © RTV Oost / Teun van der Velden     

It is an image that platoon commander Hans van der Louw recognises. "The guys who went with me, 38 of them, generally had a very good time in Lebanon.
But some were damaged. One of them is still in pain today.


During the premiere, emotions are also visible among the guests. Often a smile, sometimes a tear. "I think this film is a very good tool to share with your family," says veteran Yeb-Jan Joustra. "It gives you a very good insight into what we have actually seen and what we have experienced there.
Every veteran has his or her own way of processing, which is very understandable. But for families and for children, this is a very nice film to watch.

premiere2.850 2                                                  Attentively the veterans and their families watch the film -  Photo: © RTV Oost / Teun van der Velden   

Kleine Schaars is also happy: "The reactions are really nice and people are seeking out others and talking about UNIFIL. That is exactly why I took part.

Some of the veterans present can be seen in the RTV Oost documentary "The Forgotten Mission.