Clearing Minefields in Israel and the West Bank

by Dhyan Or and Heidi Kühn [ Roots of Peace ] - view pdf

Recent legislation in Israel has opened the door to demining in Israel and the West Bank. Roots of Peace campaigned for this legislation and will begin demining a village near Bethlehem before the end of 2011.

Minefields and sacred sites in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Figure courtesy of Avner Goren/Survivor Corps.
(Click image to enlarge)
Minefields and sacred sites in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Figure courtesy of Avner Goren/Survivor Corps.

The Mine-Free Israel campaign, a humanitarian effort led by a coalition of organizations comprised of Roots of Peace, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Center for Regional Councils, Council for a Beautiful Israel, local authorities from mine-affected communities and landmine survivors, has paved the way for humanitarian demining in Israel and the West Bank.1 The campaign recently helped pass unprecedented mine-action legislation in Israel and raise public awareness about mines in the West Bank. According to the new law, the Israeli government established a national mine-action authority, with an annual budget of 27 million NIS (US$7.3 million),2,3 scheduled to begin humanitarian demining in Israel in early 2012. In order to mirror this policy shift in the West Bank, Roots of Peace, the coordinator of the cross-sector coalition mentioned above, adopted a minefield in Husan, a Palestinian village near Bethlehem and raised funds to begin demining there before the end of December 2011. With help from several foundations and individuals, including a legacy gift from Shirley and Paul Dean of Spiriterra Vineyards, Roots of Peace will remove the landmines and transform the field of death in the midst of Husan village into a field of life, where fruit trees can grow once again, and boys and girls can safely walk and play.

Minefield History

More than 1.5 million landmines laid during the 1950s and 1960s contaminate a combined area of 50,000 acres (200 square kilometers) in the Golan Heights, in the Arava Valley and along the Jordan River.4 This includes more than 300,000 landmines contaminating 5,000 acres (20 sq. km.) of agricultural and residential land in the West Bank, with unexploded ordnance further making sites inaccessible.5

Mined areas in the region include some religious and World Heritage sites of high significance to Christianity, Islam and Judaism, especially the site known as Qasr el Yahud (Palace of the Jews) where many believe Jesus was baptized,6 Joshua crossed the Jordan River7 and Prophet Elijah is believed to have ascended into heaven.8 Approximately 3,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, as well as booby traps, surround ancient monasteries and places of worship belonging to a variety of religions and held sacred by billions of people around the world.9

Palestinian youth cycles past a minefield near Bethlehem.
Palestinian youth cycles past a minefield near Bethlehem.
Photo courtesy of Roots of Peace.

Husan is a Palestinian village located about 4 miles (6 km) west of Bethlehem and 6 miles (10 km) southwest of Jerusalem, with a population of 6,000 people,10 half of which are children, and an area of 1,800 acres (7.4 sq. km.), 87 percent of which are classified as Area C11 administered solely by Israel. The remaining area is classified as Area B, jointly administered by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.12 Between 1949 and 1967, a Jordanian police station surrounded by a mixed minefield (containing both AT and AP mines)13 overlooked the Jordanian- Israeli border from a hill within Husan. In 1993, when a bypass road (No. 375) was paved through the minefield to connect Beitar Illit with Jerusalem, it split the minefield into two parts: one part, south of the road, is fenced and marked and consists of 4.5 acres (18,211 square meters) of grazing and agricultural land; and the second part, north of the road, within a residential area of Husan, consists of 1.5 acres (6,070 sq. m.), and is unmarked, posing a constant threat to residents, especially children, who pass through it daily. Traces of an old barbed-wire fence, as well as one worn-out yellow sign can be found around this minefield.14 Over the years, several mine incidents have occurred in Husan, resulting in loss of lives and limbs.

In the past 20 years, several attempts at partially demining the area were made without success.

A marked minefield near Hatzeva, Israel.
A marked minefield near Hatzeva, Israel.
Photo courtesy of Roots of Peace.

In August 2000, British demining nongovernmental organization MAG (Mines Advisory Group) completed a technical assessment of the Husan minefields for the Canadian Landmine Foundation and planned to conduct a 12-week clearance of the contaminated area, but the clearance was put on hold due to the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Uprising (Intifada). In June 2001, during this Intifada, the Israeli military bulldozed two small sections of the southern minefield in order to erect a watchtower on a hilltop overlooking Husan. Additionally, the military shoveled mine-contaminated soil onto the northern minefield to allow the erection of a metal fence between Husan and the bypass road to protect cars from Intifada stone-throwers.14 This redistribution of dirt and contaminants further polluted the northern minefield.

In 2002, at the urging of the NGO World Vision and the Palestinian charity Health Work Committees, MAG attempted to conduct demining in Husan but failed to secure the Israeli authorities’ approval and the project did not materialize.15 Once the Intifada subsided, the Israeli courts granted permission to the landowners residing along the edge of the northern minefield to clear the contaminated land. The Israeli military insisted that only a designated, army-approved, private Israeli firm could conduct the demining, and local residents would have to bear the cost, which was well above their means. Then in 2010, Israeli advocacy group Yesh Din approached private Israeli demining firms on behalf of Husan landowners in an attempt to negotiate a low-cost demining contract. Even though Yesh Din found a military-approved firm to demine Husan, this firm’s estimated cost to complete the work was unaffordable, and the firm required landowners to sign a No-Shop Agreement prohibiting them from obtaining a more competitive bid.16

A marked minefield near Hatzeva, Israel.
Landowners view the mined area around their homes.
Photo courtesy of Roots of Peace.

Israeli Policy Shift

Despite repeated landmine and UXO incidents, until 2011 no mine-action policy existed in Israel. Several failed attempts at introducing a mine-action legislation from 2002 to 2004 failed due to lack of public support.17 However, after an intensive public-relations campaign inspired by 11-year-old local landmine survivor Daniel Yuval18 who lost his leg to a landmine in the Golan Heights in 2010, 73 out of 80 rank and file members of parliament cosponsored the Minefield Clearance Act which was eventually passed, with active support of the government and the Prime Minister on 14 March 2011.17 According to the new legislation, the Israeli National Mine Action Authority was established, and tasked with the creation and implementation of the first national humanitarian- demining plan. In September 2011 INMAA published the first draft of the national mine-action standards, held a first meeting of its advisory committee, which includes members of government offices and public representatives, and announced two pilot projects in the upper Arava Valley to be conducted in 2012.

Demine-Replant-Rebuild Initiative in the West Bank

According to Israeli and international law, the Israeli law does not apply to the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Defense Forces have shared control of civilian and security affairs. Still, the recent policy shift was welcomed by both the PA and the IDF, and raised expectations for a parallel change in mine-action policy in the West Bank. In Husan, local residents, who have been disappointed time and again after failed appeals for the removal of the constant threat of landmines from the midst of their village, are expressing renewed confidence in the possibility of realizing this wish. Once cleared, the land could be returned to productive use, helping boost local economy, which is characterized by high unemployment rates.19 Following clearance, the local community is planning to replant olive trees, expand the homes of the large families living around the minefield, and construct their first playground for hundreds of Husan children who have no other place to play.

Roots of Peace Founder Heidi Kühn and Tzachi Hanegbi, Chair of the Israel Foreign Affairs Defense Committee, plant a tree in Israel in July 2010.
Roots of Peace Founder Heidi Kühn and Tzachi Hanegbi, Chair of the Israel Foreign Affairs Defense Committee, plant a tree in Israel in July 2010.
Photo courtesy of Roots of Peace.

The Roots of Peace Demine-Replant-Rebuild initiative is a humanitarian interfaith program seeking to bring peace from the bottom-up by removing landmines and replanting the cleared land with traditional plant species (often considered sacred) such as pomegranates, grapes, figs, dates, olives, wheat and barley. Roots of Peace will launch its initiative in the Bethlehem area before the end of 2011 in partnership with the PA and the local council, with a local demining group working according to internationally recognized practices and standards, in coordination with the IDF, and under strict cost and quality management. No demining organization has yet been chosen; the contracting process is still under way.

Looking to the Future

Roots of Peace's pilot humanitarian demining project in Husan, scheduled to launch before the end of 2011, will set a precedent of local-international cooperation in mine action in the country, help build humanitarian-demining capacity and pave the way for public-private partnerships which will allow for the eventual clearance of all mine-affected communities in the West Bank and the sacred sites along the Jordan River. J

 


Biographies

Asa GilbertDhyan Or is the Country Director for Israel and the West Bank at Roots of Peace, where he has coordinated the Mine-Free Israel campaign and the Demine-Replant-Rebuild Sacred Sites project. During the Second Intifada, Or founded the All Nations Café, a social, cultural and environmental hub for Israelis, Palestinians and internationals on the border between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.


 

Michael CreightonHeidi Kühn, Founder and CEO of Roots of Peace, began the organization in 1997. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley in political economics of industrial societies, Kühn has been recognized by numerous awards including the Cal Berkeley Alumni Award for Excellence and Achievement, the National Jefferson Award for Public Service, the World Association of Non-Governmental Award for Peace and Security, and many others.


Contact Information

Dyhan Or 
Country Director, Israel
Roots of Peace
Haifa 34675 / Israel
Mobile: + 972 546 707 106
Email: dhyan@rootsofpeace.org

Heidi Kühn
Founder and CEO
Roots of Peace
990 A Street, Suite 402
San Rafael, CA 94901 / USA
Tel: +1 415 455 8008
Mobile: +1 415 948 9646
Email: heidi@rootsofpeace.org
Web site: http://rootsofpeace.org


Endnotes:

  1. “Israeli Parliament Passes Historic Mine Action Law.” Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship, University of the Pacific. http://globalctr.org/israeli-parliament-passes-historic-mine-action-law/. Accessed 3 October 2011.
  2. Stoil, Rebecca Anna. “Committee advances land mine clearance bill to Plenum.” The Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=210410. Accessed 10 October 2011.
  3. Conversion as of 11 October 2011.
  4. Adi Hashmonai. “There are Hundreds of Unfenced Minefields,” Maariv Daily Newspaper, 7 February 2010.
  5. Anshil Peper. “IDF is Working to Clear the Minefields in the Jordan Valley and the Arava.” Haaretz Daily Newspaper, 18 March 2011.
  6.  Bible, Matthew 3:13
  7. Bible, Joshua 3-4:24
  8. Bible, 2 Kings 2
  9. White, Jerry, T. Leibowitz and Dhyan Or. “Explosive Litter, Status Report on Minefields in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.” Survivor Corps, June 2010. http://bit.ly/oZvTjX. Accessed 11 October 2011.
  10. Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics: Population, Housing and Establishment Census-2007. Press Conference on the Preliminary Findings, February 2008. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2008 Ramallah, Palestine. http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/Portals/_pcbs/PressRelease/census2007_e.pdf. Accessed 11 October 2011.
  11. “The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” Washington, D.C., 28 September 1995. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/
    Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/ THE+ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN+INTERIM+AGREEMENT.htm
    . Accessed 11 October 2011.
  12. “Husan Village Profile.” Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ), 2010. http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/opt_arij_vp_husan.pdf. Accessed 11 October 2011.
  13. Based on standard Jordanian Army practice and on types of incidents reported by Husan council members on 18 November 2010 . Internal report.
  14. “Husan: A Palestinian Village Undergoes the Segregation Wall.” Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ). 5 April 2004. http://www.poica.org/editor/case_studies/view.php?recordID=355. Accessed 11 October 2011.
  15. Tim Carstairs, Director for Policy, Mines Advisory Group, to the Landmine Monitor, email correspondence. 19 July 2002.
  16. Interview with Husan landowners, 25 January 2011.
  17. Bill proposals No. 4049 from 2002, No. 19 from 2003, No. 2770 from 2004, Legislation Archive, The Knesset.
  18. Mitchell, Julia. “Daniel Yuval: A Survivor’s Hope.” The Journal of ERW and Mine Action, 15.2 (2011). http://www.jmu.educisr//journal/15.2/focus/mitchell/mitchell.shtml. Accessed 11 October 2011.
  19. The World Factbook, Middle East: West Bank. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/wfbExt/region_mde.html. Accessed 11 October 2011.

TOP OF PAGE