Today, I received confirmation that Israeli forces have planted new landmines in the UN- monitored buffer zone in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. I had contacted Taiseer Maray, the general director of Golan for Development after reading a report on the topic by Associated Press (AP) yesterday. AP based its news on information in the Israeli military magazine, Ba’mahane.
The planting of new landmines in the occupied Golan follows the events of 15 May, when Palestinian and Syrian refugees crossed the buffer zone along the ceasefire line into the occupied Golan Heights. The Electronic Intifada published an eyewitness report on the events of Nakba Day, 15 May. Israeli soldiers who were on duty decided to open fire on the demonstrators. Maray told me then that it was a miracle that no one was hurt while crossing the minefields. Israel had planted the mines in 1974 and ‘75.
In my interview of 30 June, I discussed with Maray what happened after Nakba Day. His told me then:
“The army failed to protect Israel on Nakba Day. Israel learned to be better prepared. After Nakba Day, Israel dug a deep trench of two kilometers with barbed wire in it on the other side 200 meters inside Syria. Israel is above the law. According the agreement between Israel and Syria they are not allowed to go there. They don’t respect this agreement.”
Landmines in the occupied Syrian Golan
On its website, non-governmental organization Golan for Development writes the following about the problem of landmines:
The Israeli authorities have planted landmines not only on the cease-fire line to protect its army, as they claim, but surrounding the civilian population and the agricultural land. From other side the authority has systematically ignored any responsibility and refused to clean the land mines from the populated areas. However it is not rare to find fenced off landmine areas near schools and / or in the backyard of Arab resident’s homes. No precise information is available regarding the types of these mines or their exact location, and the children become the main victims of these “backyard mines”.
“[F]ield research carried out by Al-Haq (a Palestinian human rights NGO) shows that there are 66 Arab Golani landmine victims since the beginning of the Occupation in 1967, of whom 16 died and 50 were injured. The data indicate that among the 50 victims who survived, 86% (43 victims) were under the age of 18. Eight of the 16 fatally wounded were under the age of 18.”
Mine Ban Treaty
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, or Mine Ban Treaty, prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines. The Treaty was adopted on 18 September 1997 and entered into force on 1 March 1999. A vast majority of states - 156 in all - signed the treaty. However, Israel is one of the 40 states which did not sign.
In March, the Israeli parliament adopted legislation on clearing Israel’s “non-operational” mined areas on 14 March 2011. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) commented on the the new law in a statement, clarifying that Israel will keep its “operational” mined areas. Executive Director of the ICBL, Sylvie Brigot, stated:
“By allowing for the vast majority of Israel’s mined areas to be cleared, the new legislation is a step in the right direction. But it falls short of the international norm that fully rejects any antipersonnel mine use and calls for all mined areas to be cleared.”
Haaretz reported on that occasion that “In the Golan Heights also, hundreds of minefields still form part of the defense line, in the event of war with Syria.” The minefields in the occupied Golan are part of Israel’s “operational” minefields.
UN Peace keeping mission
In May 1974, the UN Security Council established a peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights. The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has the responsibility to:
- Maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Syria;
- Supervise the disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces; and
- Supervise the areas of separation and limitation, as stipulated in the May 1974 Agreement on Disengagement.
In 2010, only the forces of the Burmese government actively planted antipersonnel mines in recent years, according to ICBL’s Landmine Monitor. One year later, ICBL can report that Israel planted antipersonnel landmines in the buffer zone in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, right under the eyes of the UN peacekeeping mission.