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26 Apr, 2010 05:36

Dangerous land: WWII landmines continue to kill and injure Israelis

Tens of thousands of landmines are scattered across Israel. But despite people still being hurt by the remnants of old conflicts, the government has yet to sign any treaty forcing it to clear the land of explosives.

It took just five seconds for Saleh Abu Arar’s life to change forever. He was 12 years old at the time and he and his friends were playing outside in the snow. Saleh remembers picking up a strange looking piece of metal – and before he had a chance to ask what it was, it exploded – taking half his body with it.

“The only thing I was given from the state after the accident was medical treatment, because I have health insurance. I demanded compensation and rehabilitation, but they rejected it. I went to the regional court and the Supreme Court but they said it’s my responsibility and not the responsibility of the state of Israel,” Saleh told RT.

That was 28 years ago. Since then, dozens of Israeli civilians – most of them Arab – have been maimed or killed by the estimated 300,000 mines littering the landscape of the Majdal Shams area. Some of them were laid during the Second World War and are still active. Others were placed by Israeli and Arab armies during years of conflict.

“The distance of 100 meters is full of mines – next to the houses and you have another school here and from this school to that school it is less than 100 meters. Another neighborhood of mines is near. And the other place is the Israeli army, which is sitting inside the village itself. It is also full of mines around here, including the houses beside that mine and the school,” Salman Fakherdeen-Al Marsad, from the Arab Centre for Human Rights in the occupied Golan Heights, said.

Many of the fences meant to close off dangerous areas are broken and there are not enough signs warning people to stay away. Over the years, many of the mines have also shifted – meaning no-one’s quite sure where some of them are now.

The story is back in the news. This time because a 12-year-old Jewish boy lost his leg four years ago. The Israeli army promised they would rid the area of mines, but only a handful have been removed. RT asked the army three times for a comment and got nothing, not even a written statement.

Two months ago Daniel Yuval was building a snowman with his sister when a landmine exploded beneath him. It tore off his leg and also injured his sister. Today is his first day home from hospital.

“There were lots of kids playing there. There were no signs saying we mustn’t go there. There was also a soldier – he never told us to go away,” Daniel told RT. “The first month in hospital was very difficult because they moved me a lot and I had to change treatments. I can’t play football anymore which makes me sad, but I’m playing basketball.”

Daniel was visited by members of parliament and received a letter from the Israeli Chief of Staff. But people say the victims get nothing – and aren’t hopeful that the public debate Daniel has sparked will flicker down to them.

“The ones who put minefields here are the Israelis and they are responsible for clearing them. But I think they are not ready to pay the financial price, the money to clean these minefields. They don't care for the lives of the Arabs and the lives of our children,” Dr Taisseer Maray, General Director of the organization “Golan for Development of the Arab Villages”, said.

Removing landmines is hugely expensive and dangerous, and the Israeli government has not signed any treaty under which the explosives should be cleared. But despite the growing debate and casualty count, Saleh has never given up hope. He never could afford to buy artificial limbs, but he never stopped hoping his story would inspire the Israeli government to act.