by Ulrike and Dawn, South Hebron Hills team
The problem of landmines and UXOs
UXO stands for unexploded ordnance and is one of many abbreviations for different kinds of military explosive material that is found randomly scattered on the ground. These devices can easily explode when touched. Children are the main victims of UXOs as they are the ones playing in the open fields. Being children, they are curious and do not know how dangerous this material is.
In Palestine, there are UXOs everywhere due to military training excercises. These training exercises not only occur in declared military firing zones, but in other locations as well. Moreover, even in the so-called “firing zones,” Palestinian civilians live there and own land there, making them the direct victims of landmines and UXOs. Children play in their fields and are exposed to UXOs on their way to school. They are exposed while herding, collecting wood, and helping with plowing.
Defence for Children International Palestine section documented in a study carried out between 1997 and 2000 that 37 Palestinians injured or killed by landmines or UXO. Of those, 30 were children, with 7 killed and 23 injured. They report that areas determined as fields filled with landmines or UXO are not properly fenced off, which compounds the problem of ordinary civilians, especially children, in an agrarian society coming into contact with UXO during their everyday activity.
We met Maher on the December 19th. On December 8th he was shepherding near his village Kashem al Karem. This village is located in an Israeli military zone in the south eastern part of the West Bank. Maher found an unknown object printed with English words he couldn’t understand. Even at 15 years of age, Maher is still curious. He picked it up off the ground to have a closer look. The object exploded immediately. Maher fell to the ground, hurting his knee. Both hands and forearms were badly burned.
Fortunately, his family was close by. They cooled his burns with cold water, and took him to the hospital in Yatta where the doctors diagnosed second degree burns. Treatment for burns is painful. Maher went to the hospital every second day to have his wounds cleaned and the dressing changed. The day of our visit still wore bandages around his left hand. New skin was just forming on both hands that were burnt. He tried to move his fingers to prevent constriction by scars. He bravely smiled at us despite the fact that he was clearly in a lot of pain.
The problem of landmines and UXO and the pain they can inflict, is one more way through which the occupation dictates the everyday lives of the people in Palestine. It is often overlooked and undocumented, but for the families and children it impacts, life can unexpectedly change forever.