This is an excerpt from Tragedy in South Lebanon. A cluster bomb is a canister designed to open in mid-air and disperse smaller submunitions referred to as bomblets. Each cluster bomb contains extreme explosive power and metal fragmentation, making them likely to kill or at least cause multiple injuries. Those bomblets that do not explode on impact must be diffused. This is the job of the deminer..
“I am a medic by profession and I volunteer with the Red Cross whenever there is a crisis, like the 2006 summer war with Israel. I have also been trained as a deminer and that is what I am currently doing full-time.
When our team of deminers enters a village for the first time, we try to meet with the mayor. He gives us the demographics—number of people who normally live there, location of buildings, roads and anything else that might make our job a little easier. The mayor has usually had time to survey the damage too and can give us an indication of the approximate location of the bombs. Our team always includes a medic and his ambulance. They keep their distance from the work site, approximately 150 meters, in case of accident, but they are there to assist in case we need emergency care.
Whether it is a field or a house covered with bomblets, we cordon off the area with barbed wire. One member of our team enters the field to determine what kinds of bombs are on the ground. If it is a large bomb and too fragile to move, it is detonated where it lies. Once the determination is made, we don our gear, turn on our detector machines and enter the field, working one baby step at a time. We work in teams of three but if the area is large, we might be five, sometimes more.
The moment I step onto the field I am only concentrated on where my foot goes and what the detector is telling me. Nothing else matters. The hardest part of my job is the psychological stress. It goes without saying that a deminer must be physically fit but he must also be mentally sound. I know myself that no matter what may have happened earlier in the morning, when I arrive at my job and I enter a room that I assume is full of bomblets I cannot afford to think of anything except finding those bombs. Even if my child is ill or I have had a fight with my neighbor, I cannot bring these stresses to my job.
I remember one day when I thought I would lose it. My team and I were called urgently to come to a village. A woman had returned to her home. I don’t know what she could have been thinking. She surely must have known her village was covered with cluster bombs yet she walked inside her house and began picking up things that had fallen on the floor. She must have suddenly realized that she was in a room full of bombs because she panicked and started screaming over and over, “There are bombs here. I’m going to die.” Fortunately for her someone heard her and called us. By the time I reached her front door she as in a state of sheer hysteria. I could not calm her down and wasn’t even sure how I was going to get her out of the house safely since. I slapped her face. I didn’t know what else to do. No hard but just enough to bring he to her senses. I am not sure who was more startled, the lady or me, but it worked and I was able to lead her outside to safety.
So while I try not to focus on dying or whether or not I will see my family again, and only think about finding the bombs, my days are enormously stressful. The company I work for thinks it will take upwards of ten years of hard work to rid South Lebanon of the bomblets left by the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war. I pray I will stay alive and well, both physically and mentally, so I can continue this important work.”
Human Rights Watch asked Israel to provide information to the UN Mine Action Coordination Center on the location of its cluster munition attacks and the specific weapons used. They asked that Israel also provide technical, financial and material assistance to facilitate the marking and clearing of cluster duds and other explosive remnants of war. Israel never responded to this request.
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