Prior to the 1967 Six Day Arab-Israeli war, the Jordanian military laid a number of minefields throughout the highlands of the West Bank to prevent Israeli military advances and to protect strategic positions. During the war the Jordanian military was forced out of the West Bank and across the River Jordan, and the Israeli military laid dense minefields in the Jordan Valley to protect this new frontier.
The HALO West Bank programme is focused on clearing minefields laid by Jordanians within the West Bank (an area of about 50 hectares). These minefields have impacted upon Palestinian civilians for decades, causing accidents and preventing safe access to valuable land for over fifty years.
In addition, there is a large minefield at the site of the Baptism of Christ, on the banks of the River Jordan, which has blocked access to sacred churches and monasteries.
In April 2014, five decades after it was laid, HALO started the clearance of a-Nabi Elyas minefield, a 64,000m² area in the Qalqiliya District in the West Bank. Just a few hundred metres from a-Nabi Elyas village, it was a high priority site, threatening the lives of local villagers. Georgian manual deminers and Palestinian machine operators worked together with Israeli and international staff to clear the minefield and enabled eleven families to use their land in safety. In November 2015, the minefield was cleared and the army order restricting the use of the land was removed.
In June 2015 HALO expanded clearance to a minefield south of Bethlehem, near the town of Hussan and completed work in January 2016 having found and safely destroyed 215 mines from a minefield less than 100 metres from the village of Hussan.
The concept of humanitarian mine clearance is relatively new to the region; in March 2011 the Israeli Ministry of Defense established the Israeli National Mine Action Authority (INMAA) and in February 2012 the Palestinian Authority established the Palestinian Mine Action Centre (PMAC) to coordinate mine action in the West Bank. HALO works under the auspices of INMAA and PMAC, both of which strongly support this project – a testament to the importance of HALO’s work and the authorities’ common goal of dealing with the landmine problem in the West Bank.
We aim to complete the clearance of the priority sites in the West Bank within two to three years. We are grateful for funding from the US Department of State (PM/WRA), Netherlands, British FCO and New Zealand and for donated equipment from the Hans K. Rausing Charitable Trust and NVESD.
Separately, we have secured approval from the Israelis and Palestinians as well as church leaders to clear the Baptism Site. Our fundraising campaign launched in May 2016.