These articles were written before the tragic death of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. In the aftermath of his assassination in Cairo, some questions have been posed about Egypt's future stability and whether Israel should delay further implementation of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. Former President Gerald Ford, after attending Sadat's funeral and conferring with officials from both countries, raised the possibility of Israel returning the captured Egyptian territory in the Sinai desert ''earlier than the April date.'' At this writing, however, it appears that the transfer of territory will take place as scheduled.
JUST AS THERE are victims of war, there are victims of peace J in the Middle East. One is Neot Hakikar, an Israeli outfitter that is preparing to phase out its popular camping tours in the southern Sinai desert before April, when Egypt is scheduled to take over the whole area.
The end of these expeditions will mean a great loss to hikers and campers from around the world. Why? For anyone familiar with the Bible, a walk through Moses' Promised Land is exciting. This land has a stark beauty that is unique among deserts. Besides, facing physical challenges as a group leads to a special camaraderie, and the Sinai presents a variety of challenges.
As of last month all trips were still running smoothly, but according to Rudy Golan, managing director of Neot Hakikar, the company is beginning to foresee problems. Fees for crossing the border into Egypt are rising steadily, red tape is rampant at seven separate check points, and guides are unsure of what to expect day to day.
Since there is no guarantee that Egypt will run similar tours, this may be your last chance to have an unusual and wonderful adventure. If you are planning to visit Israel between now and April, be sure to include a desert tour in your itinerary. Write to Neot Hakikar/Ram Safari Ltd., 28 King David St., Jerusalem. Trips run from two to five days and currently cost $165 to $235 per person. Reserve at least a month in advance and be advised -- these trips are strenuous.
What is a Sinai camping tour like? Here is a brief account of the trip my husband and I took in July. It was unquestionably one of the highlights of our visit to Israel.
6 a.m. -- Our group gathers in Jerusalem for the five-hour bus ride south to Eilat. In our forties, we are the oldest people there. Will we be able to keep up with all these "kids?"
9 a.m. -- Breakfast on the beach at En Gedi on the Dead Sea.
11:30 a.m. -- We climb aboard our rolling base camp, a four-wheel drive Reo army truck with padded benches, sun shade and huge water tank. Between them our guides, Menasha and Yossi, speak Hebrew, English, Arabic, French and German. They are an impressive pair.
1 p.m. -- Swimming and superb snorkeling at Ras el Burqa on the Gulf of Eilat. Menasha cautions us about the necessity of drinking lots of water to avoid dehydration. We don't have to be told twice. An assortment of cans provides a fast, nutritious lunch of fish, vegetables and fruits (though I'm not partial to sardines in the desert heat, and the fruit comes in heavy syrup).
2 p.m. -- We rendezvous with another Neot Hakikar group that has been out for five days. Are they sun-crazed or just very loose? Will we look like that at the end of our trip?
3 p.m. -- A stop in Neviot for a last cold drink. Menasha tells us that in 1971 the Israelis established this moshav (a collective community in which people can own property) between two Arab villages. It has been a great success but will be abandoned in April.
4 p.m. -- We head west into the nearest wadi (dry stream bed), Wadi Watir, and get our first look at the desert. This is unlike any desert we've ever seen -- it's more like the face of the moon. Forbidding dark peaks rise on either side and the ground is littered with rocks and boulders.
5 p.m. -- Our first oasis, Ein el Furtuga, which looks just the way an oasis should, palm trees and all.
6 p.m. -- We walk with sunset into the Colored Canyon, fascinated that the sun's rays can bring out lovely colors in rock faces that otherwise look uniformly brown.
7:30 p.m. -- Once the sun goes down, the desert is cool and pleasant. We stop at Tariq el Masri, a sandy valley rimmed by comfortable hills. This landscape is more familiar and hospitable. We spread out sleeping bags while Yossi starts the propane burners for dinner.
9 p.m. -- We get acquainted over a campfire. Menasha makes a special effort to build group spirit with crazy songs and games. We relax totally, falling asleep under a vast canopy of stars.
4:30 a.m. -- First light awakens us. We are startled by the complete absence of sound. The effect is eerie but somehow calming. We tiptoe away from camp for an early bathroom stop (behind any rock and be sure to burn the toilet paper after use) and have the feeling that we are the only things alive in the vast emptiness. Over coffee and biscuits Menasha quashes that idea, telling us that at present some 13,000 Bedouins live in the southern Sinai.
9 a.m. -- We bump our way through Wadi el Ein, becoming familiar with the Sinai's inhabitants and life styles -- small clumps of camels, solitary Bedouin women in black robes and veils tending scraggly goats and sheep, blankets tossed over tree limbs awaiting their owners' return.
10 a.m. -- After a hearty breakfast of fried eggs, tomatoes, and cheese, we hike to the oasis of Ein umm Ahmad. As we clamber over boulders through echoing canyons in the deadening heat, we question our sanity. The 20-minute walk seems like hours. Finally the shrieks of those who have made it spur us on, and soon we are jumping into wonderfully cold, clean water. On the way back we fall behind the others and feel very much alone again.
Noon -- As we roll slowly through Wadi Laty, Wadi Ghazala, Wadi Raseli and Wadi Sa'al, Menasha fills us in on some Sinai history. In both the 1956 war and the Six Day War (1967), the Israeli army tried to get troops overland to Sharm el Sheikh, but many trucks got stuck and had to be abandoned. By the time they made it in '67 the Israeli navy had beaten them to Sharm. Rusted old truck hulks remind us that while the Sinai has always been fought over, it almost cannot be fought in.
1 and 2 p.m. -- We have our own problems with desert transport -- three flat tires within two hours. Yossi and Menasha struggle gamely, and finally successfully, with a jack that keeps sinking into the sand.
3 p.m. -- Today's wadis are different from yesterday's. We notice more sand and fewer rocks, more low mesas and fewer harsh peaks.
6 p.m. -- We cross the border just before the Egyptian check points close and head for what was formerly the Neot Hakikar hostel (now under Egyptian ownership). To avoid daytime heat we will rise at 1 a.m. and begin our climb up Mount Sinai by 2.
1 a.m. -- Will we be able to do this? In starlight the mountain called Gebel Musa by the Arabs and Mount Moses by others looks formidable.
2 a.m. -- We follow Menasha in the dark (no flashlights allowed), stumbling over rocks and trying desperately not to lose sight of those in front of us. As it gets lighter we each go at our own pace, meeting at the bottom of 700 steep stairs hewn from the rocks by inspired monks long ago. We huff and puff our way up these, outclimbing some of the kids -- a real triumph!
5:30 a.m. -- We shiver, even in jackets, as we survey a magnificent spectacle -- ragged mountain tops on parade, their ranks broken here and there by shadowy purple and green valleys.
6 a.m. -- Sunrise on Mount Sinai. First just a golden glow over distant peaks; then a small orange semi-circle on the horizon that quickly expands into a glowing red ball; then the explosion of a great golden globe into the sky. Unforgettable.
6:30 a.m. -- We inspect the small church and mosque on top of the mountain, lamenting the fact that even pilgrims leave garbage. We breakfast in a valley redolent with the scent of rosemary and other desert plants, then collapse for a two-hour nap on the rocks.
8:30 a.m. -- Descent involves 2,000 rock steps straight down to Santa Catharina monastery, a shrine since 300 A.D. Since this is the site where Moses is said to have seen the burning bush, it is sacred in several religions.
9 a.m. -- We view but a small part of the lovely monastery and grounds because vandalism has been a great trial to the monks. Unfortunately, the magnificent chapel doors have been inscribed by "Lenny and Sally" and their many European counterparts.
11 a.m. -- We backtrack through the checkpoints, regain our passports and return to Wadi Sa'al.
1 p.m. -- Lunch at a Bedouin "restaurant," a straw-walled shed with dirt floor and rickety tables. We give a ride to a Bedouin sheikh, drop him off in the middle of nowhere, and watch him walk purposefully toward an invisible destination.
3 p.m. -- A short stop to examine some rocks near the oasis of Ein Khudra, on which pilgrims of all faiths have scratched messages since the 5th century.
4 p.m. -- In Wadi el Gibi the scenery changes again. This land is wider and flatter, with a startling variety of colors in the rocks -- great ribbons of red, orange and yellow.
7 p.m. -- We camp below Dahab on the Gulf of Eilat. Yossi outdoes himself with a farewell dinner of pea soup, spaghetti with sausage, and fruit in vodka. Suddenly we realize it's July 4. The Americans launch into "Yankee Doodle," which is followed by Israeli folk songs and German drinking songs, all accompanied by many rounds of rose wine. The party winds down quickly because everyone is exhausted.
4:30 a.m. -- We're not sure whether first light or the flies arrive first, but both are soon followed by rampaging goats and Bedouin children.
9 a.m. -- Up to Dahab for cold drinks (a forgotten luxury) and then to the public beach for swimming and snorkeling.
2 p.m. -- On our way back we meet an outgoing group. They look uncomfortable. We are pleased to realize that we must now look like the laid-back group we met at the start of our trip.
3:45 p.m. -- Just south of Eilat we pull off the road. Menasha says, "This is where the border with Egypt was before the 1967 war and this is where it will be again in April, 1982." The thought is wrenching to us.
4 p.m. -- We are back in the parking lot and it's over. Hugs, kisses and addresses are exchanged and we feel like we are losing some old friends. We will be in Jerusalem by 9, but our impressions of the Sinai will stay with us long after.