Land mine bill passes major step

C'tee approves establishment of mine removal authority.

Golan Mines (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Golan Mines
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government took its first step Sunday toward clearing Israel’s mine fields when the Ministerial Committee for Legislation unanimously approved a bill that would establish a civilian authority for land mine removal.
The bill, which was sponsored by Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi, is expected to fly through its preliminary reading on the house floor on Wednesday.
“The government’s decision is a message for which Israel has waited for decades,” Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post. “On Wednesday, the Knesset will unify around the principle that underlies the bill, and will say there are no more excuses – we are clearing the mines.”
The bill was initially opposed by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who cited concerns about the source of funding for the multimillionshekel project of clearing what some estimate to be over one million land mines.
The government authority established by the bill would be responsible for coordinating the effort, both among government ministries and among the international organizations that have already said they will support the initiative.
In advance of the ministerial committee vote, Hanegbi met with Steinitz, as well as with Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Hanegbi presented Steinitz with a letter of commitment signed by a number of international organizations that promised, among other things, international assistance in meeting the costs of the mine-clearing enterprise.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i worked to ensure support for the bill within the Defense Ministry.
The authority, if established, would only clear mine fields that security forces deemed no longer operationally necessary – a definition believed to encompass over 90 percent of the country’s mine fields.
In advance of the key vote, 11-year-old Daniel Yuval, who lost his leg to a land mine while playing in the snow in the Golan Heights last February, wrote an impassioned plea to the ministers on the committee.
“Today I know that mines are ticking bombs that hurt and kill children and adults, in almost every national park and near many communities in the Golan Heights, in the Upper Galilee, in the Jordan Valley, in the Dead Sea area and the Arava,” Yuval wrote.
“When I woke up in the hospital and I saw my amputated leg, I told my father that I want to do everything to ensure that there will not be any other mines and so no other children will be hurt,” Yuval continued.
“The prime minister called me in the hospital, and I told him that I want to establish an organization that will make sure that the government will clear away all of the mines,” he recounted.
“Even before I learned how to walk again, I came to the Knesset to ask MKs to support this law,” added Yuval, expressing happiness that 73 MKs had signed on to the bill, virtually guaranteeing its success from day one.