Campaign targets land mine awareness

Knesset to vote on winter bill to establish authority for clearing minefields.

Landmine warning billboard (photo credit: Mine-Free Israel)
Landmine warning billboard
(photo credit: Mine-Free Israel)
As tourists stream to Israel’s scenic periphery over the Succot festival, visitors to the Arava, the Galilee and the Golan Heights will be greeted with a massive campaign reminding them that some of their favorite tourist spots are located alongside – or even within – potentially deadly minefields.
On Sunday, a coalition of local government authorities, anti-land mine activists, environmental groups and civil rights organizations launched a new campaign to raise awareness among Israelis regarding the country’s hundreds of thousands of land mines.
The Succot campaign marks the first time a massive publicawareness drive has been launched to raise pressure on politicians to approve legislation that would establish a civil authority for mine clearance.
The Coalition for a Mine-Free Israel will place large billboards throughout the country, warning the public of the presence of minefields and inviting people to sign a public petition asking to be allowed to “travel safely in Israel.”
Among the sites that will be “signed” are the northern spots of the Banyas, the B’not Ya’acov Bridge, Beit Saida, Hamat Gader and the Nukeib Beach on Lake Kinneret, the Arava points of the Bet Ha’arava Junction and Ein Tamar, the Latrun Interchange between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the entrance to the Ayalon-Canada National Park in the Jerusalem Forest.
A number of MKs, including Coalition Chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), Haim Oron (Meretz), Nahman Shai (Kadima), Einat Wilf (Labor), Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) and Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beiteinu), have committed to further the drive via their personal Facebook sites. All but seven rank-and-file MKs signed on to legislation in the Summer Session that would establish a civil authority to clear the over 90 percent of mines and unexploded ordinance in Israel that has been deemed to have no tactical use.
That bill, which enjoys the support of members of every Knesset faction, is set to be placed for its first reading on the Knesset floor in the upcoming Winter Session, which will begin next month. This week’s campaign – as well as the Knesset legislation – were undertaken in the shadow of an incident last winter in which 11-year-old Daniel Yuval lost his leg to an unmarked land mine in the Mt. Avital Nature Preserve.
“Many hiking trails pass alongside minefields,” said coalition coordinator Dhyan Or. “Despite attempts to maintain tourists’ safety, Israelis and foreigners alike have repeatedly encountered mines in their paths. We are working with great effort to reduce this phenomenon and we believe that this new year can be a turning point regarding the way we address the problem of mines in Israel.”
According to data presented by the coalition, dozens of nature preserves, national parks, water sources and historical sites are “polluted” by mines and unexploded ordinance.
The IDF, they said, has confirmed that nearly 200,000 dunams of land are taken up by minefields, while the contaminated areas expand every winter, as flash floods uproot the mines and re-plant them outside of their original borders.