Knesset paves way for landmine clearance effort

12-year-old land mine victim sits in on session as bill originally sponsored by Tzachi Hanegbi passes 2nd, 3rd readings by vote of 43-0.

By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
March 14, 2011 22:20
3 minute read.
JERRY WHITE and Daniel Yuval

White and Yuval 311. (photo credit: Courtesy rootsofpeace.org)

They lost their legs to land mines in the Golan Heights in two separate incidents three decades apart, but on Monday Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jerry White and 12-year-old Daniel Yuval sat together and watched as the Knesset voted unanimously to establish the National Authority for Land Mine Clearance.

White and Yuval were among the forces behind the bill that passed Monday evening, paving the way for Israel’s first systematic mine clearance effort.

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The bill, originally sponsored by former MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Kadima) and later by MK Roni Bar-On (Kadima), and cosponsored by 72 MKs, passed its second and third readings by a vote of 43-0.

The law will establish a civilian body under the authority of the Defense Ministry that will contract mine clearance to private companies that specialize in the task. The authority will be granted a guaranteed NIS 27 million annual operating budget, but will also set up a fund to allow for the receipt of international donations from states, international bodies and non-governmental organizations.

“This was an important milestone,” Bar-On said.

“After 63 years, Israel is joining the international community, which has for a long time been dealing with mine clearance. Funding the project, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of shekels, will mainly come from donations from humanitarian organizations.

“The lands that will be cleared will be used to expand communities, agriculture, tourism, and infrastructures.

The loss of life will stop and the law will also improve Israel’s international image,” Bar-On predicted.

The former finance minister gave special credit to Yuval, whose injury last winter while playing in snow in the Golan Heights sparked the yearlong drive to legislate mine clearance.

“It was an honor to be there with the Yuval family. I see this as Daniel’s law – for him and his family, this bill has been both a light at the end of the tunnel to focus on something very positive, but also marks the light at the beginning of the tunnel for the work lies ahead of us,” White said after the vote.

“It always makes me happy when a country wakes up to the invisible threats under ground. We should pause and celebrate a great, unifying moment with vision for the future,” he continued. “You can’t make me cry easily, but I am very much moved with an enormous personal sense of relief that the country will be de-mined. I wanted Tel Aziziat, my mine field, to be de-mined before I died. I’m only 47, and so now it seems like a realistic goal.”

According to Mine-Free Israel – a campaign coordinated by White’s Roots of Peace International in cooperation with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Center of Regional Councils and the Council for a Beautiful Israel – the precise number of operational and nonoperational landmines in Israel remains unknown, but the overall estimate is as high as one million, with minefields currently swallowing up more than 197,000 dunams in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

White, who has coordinated mine-removal campaigns throughout the world, said that Israel still has quite a lot of work still ahead. But the first glimpse of the coming period landed this week in the person of a US State Department delegation, which has come to assess Israel’s needs in clearing out the mines. The team represents the State Department’s Weapons Removal department, which has a $160m. annual budget for mine removal actions worldwide.

In the mean time, Israel is still lacking in some of the heavy equipment utilized around the world – including by now mine-free neighbor Jordan – to clear minefields to international humanitarian standards of 99.7 percent. According to Mine-Free Israel Director Dhyan Or, Israel’s military clearance operations have recently reportedly met with difficulty confirming clearance rates over 90% certainty.


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