Clearing mines and hearts

Israel has finally passed legislation to clear landmines, thanks to the resilience of 12-year-old Daniel Yuval.

Last year, when 12-year-old landmine survivor Daniel Yuval said he wanted to do something to rid Israel of landmines, even he didn’t expect his call to action to move a mountain of security. But Daniel’s wounded innocence prevailed and Israel’s Ministry of Defense is now poised to clear the country of deadly military debris.
On Monday, the Knesset passed unprecedented legislation to establish the first National Mine Action Authority responsible to remove up to 90 percent of Israel’s outdated minefields. Within six months, Israel will implement a systematic national plan to clear nearly one million mines from the Golan Heights through the Jordan and Arava Valleys down to Eilat. The work of humanitarian deminers will take several years and up to $70-90 million. But it will save lives and limbs, while setting free valuable land held hostage for decades.
Daniel became a national hero, hardly complaining after he stepped on a mine last February, while running and laughing with his siblings in the first snow of the Golan Heights. The Golan is the same mega-minefield where I also lost my innocence and leg while camping and hiking 27 years ago. I first met Daniel in his hospital room right after surgeries to amputate his lower right leg. I expected to see a confused little boy crying in pain, distraught, needy.
Instead, I met a biblical prince and a true leader. Daniel never made his personal pain about himself, or about payback. For him, it was about the next generation.
“How can we make sure this doesn’t happen to any other children?” Working with this next-gen leader over the past twelve months has been remarkable.
In record time, he learned to walk, kick-box and play football with his new prosthesis, while earning top grades at school and mastering enough English to represent our Mine-Free Campaign as a Youth Ambassador.
In December, he stunned over a hundred UN diplomats in Geneva with his direct appeal for action, speaking with clarity and chutzpah to prime ministers, ambassadors, media, schools and government officials alike. Israelis have lived for too long with the constant threat of landmines – an invisible weapon of terror that has claimed the lives and limbs of hundreds of individuals over the years. We call landmines “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion” because they’ve killed more people than nuclear, chemical and biological weapons combined. They don’t really increase safety, they just block agricultural development and access to natural and cultural heritage.
THE NEW landmine law, which passed second and third Knesset readings on Monday, includes a commitment from the government to dedicate NIS 27 million annually for humanitarian mine action. It also represents a paradigm shift of sorts for the military to work closely with affected communities, civil society, even with international donors and the private sector.
A delegation from the US State Department arrived this week to assess the needs of Israel’s nascent mine action program and offer technical assistance. Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $1.5 billion to help over 50 mine-contaminated countries clear their minefields.
The “Mine-Free Israel” Campaign is the most successful national campaign since “Don’t Pick the Wildflowers” in the 1960s.
The resilience of Daniel Yuval was able to galvanize widespread support from international organizations such as Roots of Peace and national powerhouses such as Council for a Beautiful Israel, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the Center of Regional Councils. Clearing mines became a call to unity for politicians as well, rippling from a troika of early political adopters: Tzachi Hanegbi, Matan Vilnai and Ronnie Bar-On, mobilizing every political faction left to right, ultimately earning the blessing and budgetary support of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Why? Because, hopefully, we can all agree with Daniel Yuval – it’s not about us.
It’s about the next generation, working together to heal, to protect and to care for all the kids put at risk by deadly conflict.
The writer is a global humanitarian and recognized leader in the Nobel Peace Prizewinning International Campaign to Ban Landmines.