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Country Reports
GOLAN HEIGHTS, Landmine Monitor Report 2000
LM Report 2000 Full Report   Executive Summary   Key Findings   Key Developments   Translated Country Reports



Located on the Israeli-Syrian border, the Golan has been an area of conflict ever since the establishment of Israel in 1948. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel occupied most of this area, displacing many of the occupants to Syria. Israel annexed the Golan in 1981. Today, most of the 16,000 Golanis hold Israeli identity cards instead of passports, and thus do not enjoy full citizen’s rights. Around 15,000 Israelis have moved into settlements there. In the peace negotiations between Israel and Syria the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan is being discussed.

Landmine Problem

In Israel, the Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan there are numerous minefields, although the exact locations, numbers, and types of mines are not publicly known. The Israeli State Comptroller’s Report indicates that for 350 minefields, there is clearly no longer a security need.[1] Some of these minefields originate from the period of the British Mandate. Some were laid by Jordan, Syria or Egypt prior to the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the Golan. In addition, Israel planted landmines along borders, military areas, and settlements in the occupied areas, as well as electricity and water stations and pipelines.[2] These minefields continue to be a big obstacle to the civil use and development of the land and its resources. The situation is especially severe for the Golani people whose livelihood depends on growing crops and grazing cattle. Thus there are numerous requests for mine clearance from civil bodies like the Agricultural Ministry, the Israeli Land Administration and the Israeli water company, Makorot.[3]

A major danger in the Golan is the fact that many minefields are not marked or fenced and are thus easily entered by mistake.[4] There are several areas fenced off covering several kilometers of land, and there are also fenced off minefields near schools and even in the back yards of some Golani residents. However, in many instances, there are no warnings or protections for civilians at all.

For example, in Ein Al-Hamreh there are still several areas with mines that are not fenced off. It was here that an Israeli soldier was killed by a mine in 1990; in another incident two victims were injured and one killed. Furthermore, the area between Ein Al-Hamreh and Al-Mansurah (approximately one hundred square kilometers) is mined, but much of it is not marked; this is a known grazing area. Minefields also surround the village of Majdal Shams.

According to al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization with ECOSOC consultative status at the UN, the Israeli Army used to confiscate land for the purpose of planting mines, and offered compensations to the landowners far below the actual value.[5] Israel justified this in the name of military needs. Some other areas are declared closed to civilians by military order, as they are mined or suspected of being mined, either by the Israeli army or by the Syrians before 1967.[6]

Residents avoid some areas out of fear that they could contain mines. Landmines planted directly next to houses, schools, and streets impose restrictions on the freedom of movement. The situation is worsened by the fact that, since the Golan is a mountainous area, rain and natural earth movements cause mines to move from their original places and slide into areas that are believed to be safe, sometimes even into the back yards of houses.

In addition to agriculture, tourism is an important source of income for many Israeli settlers in the Golan, as the mountainous area is ideal for hiking and skiing. But tourism, too, is restricted as a result of mines. Some attractive areas are closed to civilians, while others are open but still dangerous due to the insufficient marking of existing minefields. Tourists hiking in the Golan are at risk of entering a minefield unintentionally.

Israeli mining near electrical stations, water stations, and water pipes poses dangers for the workers, and leads to difficulties in maintaining and extending these stations.

Protection of Civilians

Israel as a party to Protocol II of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons has a duty to protect the civilian population from the effects of mines it has laid, including marking and monitoring known mined areas.[7]

Al-Haq argues that Israel also has a legal obligation to provide protections for civilians in the Golan from landmines emplaced by other belligerents. The Fourth Geneva Convention provides for the protection of the civilian population, individually and collectively, who find themselves in the hands of a belligerent State or occupying Power of which they are not nationals “at any given moment and in any manner whatsoever” (Art. 4) and in “all cases of partial or total occupation” (Art 2).[8] While Israel has argued that these provisions are not applicable in the Golan because an Arab country was not sovereign, al-Haq disagrees, noting that the Fourth Geneva Convention was intended to protect the right of people who find themselves “in the hands of a Party to the conflict or occupying Power of which they are not nationals” (Art. 4), irrespective of the competing claims to sovereignty over the territory.[9] It does not exclusively refer to territory whose “legal sovereign” has been displaced by the occupant and the term “territory” in the Convention is not restricted to territory where the displaced government has the formal title as the “legitimate sovereign.”

Mine and UXO Casualties

Al-Haq has done a survey of mine casualties in the Golan, but there has not been comprehensive research on mine victims within the Golan. The Israeli State Comptroller's Report covers mine incidents in Israel based on military data for the period of December 1997 to May 1998 and reports one incident in which a “member of the minority” was killed in southern Golan while entering a known minefield together with another person.[10]

Four other incidents are included in the State Comptroller Report involving Israeli soldiers and employees of Makorot. Further information about mine victims that are not from the Arab Golani community (Israeli soldiers and civil employees, local Israeli civilians, tourists, and soldiers of the international peacekeeping forces in the Golan) is not known.

Al-Haq collected information about sixty-six Arab Golani landmine and UXO victims since the beginning of the Occupation in 1967, of whom sixteen died and fifty were injured.[11] It was not possible in all cases to find out what if the explosion was caused by a mine or by UXO. Al-Haq’s data indicates that among the fifty people who survived, forty-three were under the age of eighteen. Eight of the sixteen fatally wounded were under the age of eighteen. One victim lost both eyes and both legs. One victim lost both eyes and both arms. One victim lost one eye, one leg and both hands. One victim lost one eye, one leg and one hand. Six victims lost at least an eye. Six victims lost at least one leg. Sixteen victims lost one hand. Eighteen people suffered from burns and fragments entering their body.[12]

The last known human accident with mines occurred in November 1999, when teenagers brought a landmine they found outside their village to a local sports club, where it exploded and injured three of them slightly and one seriously in the foot.[13]

Research has revealed that of the sixteen incidents in which Golanis were killed by mines or UXO, seven happened while the victims were grazing cattle, two on agricultural roads and one on agricultural land. The Israeli State Comptroller’s Report mentions that evidence of agricultural activity were discovered in nineteen minefields in the Golan.[14] This has occurred even though these areas have been officially declared closed for civilians.[15]

In addition to civilian casualties, there are also frequent incidents of cattle being killed by mine blasts, thus resulting in serious economic loss. For example, Sheepherder Najeeb Tareeba estimates that since 1967 he has lost more than fifty cattle due to landmines. The most recent explosion killed one of his livestock in February 2000.[16]

The survey indicated a high risk for Golani children, especially small children, who are more likely to suffer serious or even fatal injuries than adults. Four-year-old Amir Abu-Jabel was killed by a landmine in 1989 while playing in the yard of his house.[17] It appears that rain probably swept the mine to the area from a nearby minefield. Golani Arab children are at an even higher risk because they are traditionally responsible for grazing cattle and helping with the harvest.

Of particular interest to al-Haq was landmine victim Saleh Abu-Arrar. Saleh is a victim who discussed at length the trials of being a child landmine victim. With his strong passion for life, Saleh has overcome near blindness and the loss of his limbs to become a successful accountant in the Golan. Saleh went into great detail on how he was victimized and what he felt like immediately afterwards. He described to al-Haq field workers what it was like the morning after the accident as he lay in the hospital bed. He talked about waking up and asking his brother to scratch his right leg. His brother scratched his left. After requesting for his brother again to scratch his right leg, once again he scratched his left one. At that time Saleh’s brother told him that he had lost his right leg. When Saleh arrived home from the hospital he remembers people from the community walking by him thinking that he could not hear them saying, “Saleh would have been better off dead than to have survived and be handicapped forever.” Realizing he would never be “normal” Saleh stopped feeling sorry for himself and is now quite a success story for all landmine survivors.[18]

Mine Awareness and Victim Assistance

Currently, there are no governmental or local programs to teach Golani citizens about the dangers of mines. Research in the Arab Golani community shows first aid for mine and UXO victims was delivered by the IDF in twenty-two cases and by civilians in the others, one of them being an Israeli settler.[19] If the victim lies in a minefield or an area suspected to contain more mines, the IDF has to bring a vehicle through to the victim. Al-Haq has documentation of one instance in which a second mine exploded under a military vehicle trying to reach a mine victim and killed an Israeli soldier.[20]

The closest hospital to the Golan is in Safed, more than 100 kilometers from the Golani villages. In the Golan itself there is only a small emergency clinic. Thus the special medical help needed for serious mine injuries is not available quickly enough in the Golan to be of effective assistance. In the Golan there are no governmental or local rehabilitation facilities for mine victims.

At the time of the accidents many Golani families were either unaware of their rights or afraid to deal with Israeli authorities and institutions.[21] Thus many of them never tried to get any compensation or to make use of the facilities and benefits provided by the state of Israel to handicapped victims. Even if victims or their families tried to get compensation, Israel is generally unwilling to acknowledge any responsibility for mine accidents involving civilians and thus generally do not pay compensation.[22] In fact, nineteen mine victims who had to be treated in a hospital after a mine or UXO explosion were subsequently investigated by the police on the circumstances of the accident.[23]


[1] Conclusion from the Israeli State Comptroller's Report No. 50 A, for the Year 1999, “Mine Laying in the Israel Defense Forces,” (Published in Hebrew and translated unofficially) Israel Government Printing Office, Jerusalem. Hereafter cited as “State Comptroller’s Report, 1999.”
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Documented during field visits by al-Haq, 1999-2000.
[5] Documented by al-Haq fieldwork and May 1999 questionnaires.
[6] State Comptroller’s Report, 1999.
[7] See CCW Protocol II (1980), Article 4, paragraph 2 (b) and Article 7, paragraphs 2 and 3.
[8] Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Aug. 12, 1949, 6 UST 3516, TIAS No. 3365, 75 UNTS 287. See Commentary on the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949: Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War 22 (J. Pictet Ed. 1958); G. Von Glahn, The Occupation of Enemy Territory: A Commentary on the Law and Practice of Belligerent Occupation 281, 283 (1957); UK War Office, The Law of War on Land: Being Part III of the Manual of Military Law 140 (1958); and M. Greenspan, The Modern Law of Land Warfare 216-17, 224- 27 (1959).
[9] Roberts, “The Applicability of Human Rights During Military Occupation,” 13 Rev. Int'l Study 39 (1987).
[10] State Comptroller’s Report, 1999.
[11] Based on data from questionnaires collected by al-Haq, May 1999.
[12] Data obtained from al-Haq fieldworker in the Golan Heights. Information is based on affidavits and questionnaires from May 1999.
[13] Al-Haq Affidavit #3 2000, Amir Abu-Jabel's father.
[14] State Comptroller’s Report, 1999.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Al-Haq Affidavit #4, 15 February 2000, Najeeb Saleh Taraba.
[17] Al-Haq Affidavit #3 2000, Amir Abu-Jabel's father.
[18] Al-Haq Affidavit #1, 14 February 2000, Saleh Salman Youssef Abu-Arrar.
[19] Al-Haq Questionnaire, May 1999.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Finding based on analysis of al-Haq Questionnaire, May 1999.
[23]The results of these investigations are not known to al-Haq because most of the interviewees did not know the final outcome.