Humanitarian Demining Efforts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
by Jennette Townsend, MAIC
In an August 2002 assessment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported that the following areas in the OPT are not properly fenced, marked or cleared:
Though no minefields have been officially declared in the Gaza Strip, Ayid Abu Qtaish, mine awareness coordinator of Defence for Children International (DCI), Palestine Section, has no doubt the area is contaminated.2
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) have drawn criticism for their humanitarian demining (HD) efforts, or lack thereof. However, a National Mine Action Committee, composed of both Palestinian and international organizations, has taken the lead in mine awareness efforts in the OPT.
HD Efforts by IDF and PNA
In February 2003, Israel outlined its stockpile destructions efforts, stating that 12 tons of mines were destroyed by the military in 2002. However, Abu Qtaish of DCI told Aljazeera that Israel's efforts were not enough. Qtaish told Aljazeera, "Practically speaking, there has been no mine clearing. There is a big difference between clearing minefields for military purposes and clearing them for humanitarian purposes. In the latter case, the number of mines must be zero."3
Israeli HD efforts have also been criticized. Last year, IDF declared the village of Husan, in the West Bank, a mine-free zone. Aljazeera reports that, following the announcement, three people from the village died when a mine exploded.3
Conversely, the PNA has made no recent official statement about banning anti-personnel mines.
Palestinian groups have access to both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Media reports indicate that these groups are using landmines and explosive devices, made from the explosives taken from landmines, in attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians. 1
HD Efforts by the National Mine Action Committee
In response to the lack of mine action in the OPT, a National Mine Action Committee was established by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UNICEF, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Palestinian government.1 The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, DCI in Palestine, and the Palestinian Ministries of Education, Youth and Sports, Interior, and Health are also members.3 The committee, which was established in August 2002, coordinates mine action activities in the OPT. Activities include:
Abu Qtaish told Aljazeera that the emphasis on MRE and awareness activities versus landmine removal activities is due to Israeli restrictions on removal of landmines. A Canadian initiative to demine the village of Husan near Bethlehem was stopped short due to an Israeli ban on the import of mine-cleaning materials and restrictions on the method of clearing.3
DCI emphasized the increased danger that comes with the possible re-deployment of the Israeli army and the hand-over of those areas to the PNA. The fear is that, with the increased mobility of Palestinians in the areas, the number of landmine/UXO accidents will increase. DCI has made it a part of its agenda to address this issue in hopes of avoiding the high number of casualties that occurred following the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon.2