Committee advances land mine clearance bill to plenum

Committee officials say the first pilot project to clear minefields is expected to be launched in another six months.

Golan Mines (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Golan Mines
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel’s first pilot project for mass land mine clearance is likely to begin in another six months, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee announced Tuesday.
Although the powerful committee advanced a landmark bill to establish a national authority for land mine clearance, activists complained that the legislation fell short of its original purpose.
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The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee held its final meeting to complete and approve the format of the bill, at the end of which, MKs voted unanimously to advance the legislation to its final readings on the house floor.
With co-sponsors representing every faction in the legislature, its passage is more or less assured. The second and third readings of the bill are expected to be held in the next two weeks.
The legislation forms the groundwork for the establishment of a National Land Mine Clearance Authority, that will be under the auspices of the Defense Ministry and guaranteed a NIS 27 million annual budget. The legislation also enables the authority to expand its land mine clearance by soliciting foreign donations.
The authority will initially draw up a multi-year plan to prioritize the clearance of Israel’s numerous mine fields, but donors will be able to request that their funds be directed toward specific projects that are deemed to reflect significant public interest.
Potential “special cases” include areas near holy and archaeological sites, particularly in the Jordan Valley.
Committee officials said the first pilot project to clear minefields is expected to be launched in another six months, but did not say which site would be selected for the pilot.
Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima), who assumed the leadership role on the legislation after its original sponsor, Tzachi Hanegbi, had to leave the Knesset, said he was assured that the bill would pass easily.
“Now we must continue to work quickly, because it would be especially tragic if any more people were killed or injured after we already have the legislation in place,” Bar-On added.
The establishment of such an authority, he said, “has an important declarative value, particularly in light of the current geopolitical situation.”
The former finance minister also noted that clearing land mines will help tourism, benefit the environment, allow for improved infrastructures and allow local governments to expand their jurisdictions.
Despite Bar-On’s enthusiasm, Dhyan Or, the Israel director of international anti-land mine NGO Roots of Peace, expressed concern that the legislation fell short of its original goals.
Although international mine-clearance experts had recommended that Israel follow the international practice of establishing a civilian mineclearing authority, the government agency established by the new legislation will be what Or described as “half-civilian.”
Furthermore, Or said, the legislation does not place a sufficient emphasis on the concept of “humanitarian mine clearance as opposed to military mine clearance.”
Until now, Israel’s mine clearance activities have been carried out by the IDF’s Engineering Corps, which has cleared specific mine fields for military purposes.
Or explained that although “the Engineering Corps has done a good job at what it was meant to do, the procedures for humanitarian clearance as well as the degree of certainty required for having cleared a minefield are different.”
Although Or acknowledged that no mine fields can be defined as 100% cleared, the current international mine action standards mandate that a minefield be considered cleared with 99.7% certainty.
Any lower number, Or said, will not only reduce civilian confidence in the clearance activities, but will also deter potential overseas donor organizations, which do not provide funding for mine clearance projects that fail to meet international standards and practices for humanitarian clearance.
Furthermore, the Israeli legislation does not give the authority a mandate to clear unexploded ordinance from areas that are not defined as mine fields. In most countries, said Or, unexploded ordinance is included within land mine clearance legislation.
Only Monday, a Beduin teenager was killed in the Negev when military ordinance exploded as he tended his flock.