11-year-old shifts minds on mines

Israeli mine survivor’s uncomplicated prose begs for clearer political thinking

Daniel Yuval, age 11, addresses Geneva followup meeting to Cartagena Summit on implementing the Mine Ban Treaty

Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Daniel Yuval is 11, an Israeli sixth grader who is in Geneva to make one thing perfectly clear to the world: it should get rid of its landmines and not another single child should be hurt by one. He appears to be getting the message across, both at home in Israel and further afield.

Daniel was enjoying the thrill of his first snow 6 February 2010, playing on a hillside in the Golan Heights with his father, older sister and a younger brothers, when he stepped on a landmine. He lost a leg to it, but gained a power for speaking out against landmines, which is literally moving mountains where adults have been able to achieve far less.

A bill was submitted 10 May 2010 to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, by 73 members, to establish a national mine action authority to manage the clearance of non-operational minefields. The bill followed Daniel’s address to the Knesset, asking them to take action.

Daniel Yuval during a break in Geneva, 29 November 2010

Israel is one of the 20 percent of countries that have not signed the Mine Ban Treaty. The 1997 treaty was implemented in 1999 and 156 States are signatories. Its web pages note: “The Mine Ban Treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of antipersonnel mines. It is the most comprehensive international instrument for eradicating landmines and deals with everything from mine use, production and trade, to victim assistance, mine clearance and stockpile destruction.”

Israel and landmine groups estimate it has 260,000 mines.

Some 20 medical operations and 10 months later, with a prosthesis in place, Daniel has caught up on his schoolwork and is getting good grades, his father says. And he’s able to run  faster than some of the kids in  his class, Daniel says enthusiastically.

Daniel was in Geneva 29-30 November, brought by Roots of Peace. He gave a powerful speech (speech text in full) as part of the first followup meeting to the Cartagena Summit that took place in Colombia in November 2009. His audience included Micheline Calmy-Rey, Switzerland’s foreign minister, and Jakob Kellenberger, head of the ICRC (International Red Cross).

Daniel and Jerry White, founder of Survivor Corps, who also lost a leg on the Golan Heights when he was 20, will receive the 2010 Roots of Peace Global Citizens Award. Roots of Peace seeks to make sacred sites mine-free and safe for pilgrims and other visitors.

The pair spoke to GenevaLunch about Daniel’s experience and its impact on the current state of the Mine Ban Treaty. Daniel has been learning English for six months and hopes to perfect it so he can address the United Nations.

He answers the first question easily:  he will turn 12 in a month, 12 January. His favourite sport? Kick-boxing, which he’s been doing for two years, not at school, but after. He lives near Tel Aviv. He’s also kept up judo and he’s a huge football fan, both playing and following, especially Manchester United and, in Israel, Hapoel Tel Aviv. His English is remarkably good for someone who has studied for only six months, with major medical distractions during that time.

Daniel’s father, Guy Yuval, steps in when the questions get more complicated, to clarify a point. The family was romping in the snow on the Golan Heights, as were other families at the time, because they never saw signs that there were mines in the area. Israeli military officials said shortly after the accident that the area was marked. “It is now marked,” says Guy Yuval. “But we’re trying to get the area cleared because that’s  no insurance. The signs had been carried away by the rain [in February], and who knows what will  happen in the next rainy season.”

Jerry White, left, and Daniel Yuval, landmine survivors with their prostheses at the UN in Geneva: the two will be named 2010 Global Citizens by Roots of Peace

The father says, in answer to a question, that yes, Daniel is doing well and he, too, is doing better, but it’s been hard, as any parent will understand, he adds. He told a journalist from The Independent in May that he was finding it very hard. “Guy Yuval is still traumatized by finding himself alone with his three children, two badly injured, in a snow-covered minefield last February,” the paper wrote. “‘I still haven’t recovered from that.'” The three made it out safely by retracing their steps, Daniel carried by  his father, who had wrapped a tourniquet around the boy’s leg. His sister Amit, a year older than Daniel, suffered shrapnel wounds in the face.

Jerry White says Daniel’s testimonies are playing an important role, calling the boy a witness of conscience. “It’s always been important to remind people that this is about people.” The treaty calls for States to help survivors, but funding has been described as “woefully inadequate” and Daniel reminds the public of what survivors need.

“Decent medical care and rehabilitation and social and economic rehabilitation,” White ticks off the list. “Most mine victims are marginalized and we have to remove barriers to jobs. Survivors would say a fake leg doesn’t put food on the table.”

Daniel doesn’t have to face the job part of it yet, but he is learning to live with being in chronic rehab, says White,  because a growing boy will have to be continually fitted with new prostheses as each one eventually becomes an uncomfortable fit. “The worst comes after the serial operations and the pain of the sores. He’s growing, he’s running”, additional physical stresses. But he’s not complaining, marvel those around him, as Daniel focuses on getting on with life. “I’ve seen a marked difference in him, even in his desire to make a difference,” White adds.

The boy’s impact in the Geneva meetings and elsewhere is that he is raising awareness of the need to remove mines. But how does the process work, how does anyone convince States to change, when they have signed the treaty, but done nothing, such as Venezuela, or taken action, but have not signed, such as China and the United States, or lagged in keeping their commitments, such as Britain? “Here, there’s subtle fingerpointing,” says White, “even when it’s couched in diplomatic terms. There’s peer pressure, but also peer support, and there are role models, like Jordan.”

Jordan, which has removed almost all the mines along its border with Israel, has indeed served as a role model. The Israeli bill calls for not only military demining, but humanitarian: giving the land back to agriculture, a more costly and complicated process, but one where Jordan is showing the way.

Links to other sites: Independent, UK and New York Times, May 2010


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