'Israel should adopt int’l land mine removal standards'

Land mine expert Christopher Clark tells 'Post' that standards will guarantee removal, reduce costs, improve efficiency.

Golan Mines (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Golan Mines
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel should adopt internationally tested mine-clearing techniques when it begins its land mine removal pilot program this summer, an international expert on mine removal said Monday.
“Applying international standards will not only guarantee that all land mines have been located and removed – so that the public will confidently be able to make full use of mine-free lands – it will also reduce costs and improve efficiency,” said Christopher Clark, senior liaison officer and technical adviser of the United Nations Mine Action Service.
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“Now that Israel had passed this groundbreaking law, it must ensure that this process will be as safe, cost-effective and rapid as possible. Insisting to use the approach which the Israel army is already familiar with is quite simply not the way forward.”
Clark added that “the international community in general and those involved in mining have learned very many practical lessons in the clearing of mine fields which have drastically improved speed of clearance without sacrificing efficiency and in most cases have improved efficiency and reduced costs of removal drastically.
So the costs to remove mine fields seven, eight, or nine years ago have probably been reduced a third or a fourth due to this knowledge we’ve gained.” Clark spoke to The Jerusalem Post while in Israel for International Mine Awareness Day.
In 2003, Clark was appointed program manager for the UN mine action program in South Lebanon and program manager for the Mine Action Coordination Center. He was in charge of clearing land mines left in Lebanon following the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 and oversaw the removal of unexploded cluster bombs from south Lebanon following the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Clark said that while there are more minefields in Lebanon, “Israel has the same sort of characteristics as south Lebanon. That is, a relatively small piece of land overall; so having a concentration of land mines is out of proportion to the size of the country. Mines have a multipliable effect [in Israel] because of the denial of land access and tourism.”
He also said that Israel can learn from the experiences in neighboring countries largely because the terrain and geography are so very similar.
Last month, the Knesset passed the Land Mine Law, which calls for the establishment of a national mine action authority in charge of the clearances. It will be operated by the Defense Ministry with an annual budget of NIS 27 million. Israel will seek assistance from the international community to supplement the budget.
The exact number of land mines in Israel is unknown, but hundreds of thousands of them were placed mainly along Israel’s borders, covering an estimated 50,000 acres.
There are also land mines dating back to the British Mandate that were never removed.
Much of the impetus for the law came from controversy surrounding the severe injury of 11-year-old Daniel Yuval, who lost half of his left leg when he stepped on a land mine while hiking in the Golan Heights in February 2010. Yuval later testified about his experiences at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee as well as at the US State Department.
Following the passing of the mine clearance bill, the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee announced that Israel’s first pilot project for land mine clearance is likely to begin in August.
Dhyan Or, Israel director of the global anti-mining advocacy group Roots of Peace, said that current methods of mine removal being used by the IDF are not up to international standards, and that they constitute a “quick-fix solution.”
Or said that techniques like using bulldozers to scoop up mined heavy dirt and move it elsewhere presents a threat that the mines may be returned to exposed areas during a flood. He also said that detonations of anti-tank mines in the Jordan Valley have caused broken windows in nearby buildings.
To Or, the problem is that the government felt political pressure from a grassroots movement and was looking for a quick solution.
“The initiative to remove mines came from the grassroots, from land mine survivors, and was thrown onto the political system, which is now trying to show that they are doing something, but in actuality they are not doing it in a way that meets the international standards.
“They’re doing it quickly and ad-hoc, instead of doing it according to international standards that have been established over more than 20 years of global de-mining experience.”
The IDF sent a response on Monday to Clark's comments, saying "the Engineering Corps and the entire Israel Defense Forces have been working over recent years in an intensive manner to clear mine fields for the welfare and security of the state's residents. The IDF operates according to existing professional practices and methods while also examining new and unique ways of operating."
The statement also mentioned how the IDF on Monday finished de-mining a 2,600 dunam plot of land in the area of Moshav Faran.