Representatives of the Bay Area non-profit group spearheaded a historic Palestine and Israel agreement to remove landmines from the City of Bethlehem and will travel to the Holy Land to oversee the first removal and detonation of mines.
Heidi Kühn, Founder and CEO of Roots for Peace, a landmine removal advocacy group headquarted in San Rafael, will join Israeli and Palestinian officials at 10 a.m. (Midnight PST) Wednesday, April 24 at a ceremony in Husan Village section of Bethlehem to begin safely removing and detonating mines left over since a 1948 territorial dispute in one of the holiest of cities to three of the world’s major religions, Muslim, Christian and Jewish.
The project began when Daniel Yuval, an 11-year-old Israeli boy, lost his leg three years ago playing in the snow in Golan Heights, appealed to Roots for Peace, an international landmine removal organization, to ensure the explosives were removed so no other child would be harmed or killed. Present will be a 75-year-old Palestinian shepherd who lost his arm to a landmine as a young boy in the same field.
“This is a historic occasion made possible by the cooperation from the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyayu, President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Ministry of Defense, Palestinian Ministry of Defense,and the Bethlehem Governorate of the Palestinian Authority,” said Kühn. “We are honored to have played a role in bringing these concerned and thoughtful parties together to make this neighborhood safe again for humanity.”
The 3 acre site, located 4 miles from Nativity Manger Square where Jesus Christ was said to have been born, will be cleared of mines during a one month operation conducted jointly by Palestinian and Israeli militaries working cooperatively. The area will then be replanted with grapes as part of Roots of Peace’s Mines to Vines (Demine~Replant~Rebuild®) program.
The mine removal project cost was given by well-known Napa Valley vintners Shirley and Paul Dean, Owners of Spiriterra Vineyards, who donated the money to Roots for Peace to pay the military for the removal of the mines after hearing the story.
“No child should be born anywhere in the world with the risk of losing life or limb to a landmine. This is an important first effort in the Holy Land and we hope to clear other fields as well when additional funding becomes available,” Kühn said.
During the past 3 years, Heidi Kühn has worked with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas to gain their support for her landmine initiatives.
Interfaith support for the landmine removal includes the Sheikh of Bethlehem. “We are pleased to put our hand in yours to demine The Holy Land and start from Husan Village in The Fields of Bethlehem where Jesus was born and his feet stepped once upon a time so as our children will step in the same place with peace and love,” the Sheikh said.
In a personal letter of support from Dr. Andy David, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, he wrote of the effort: “the work of Roots of Peace is in alignment with the Hebrew phrase ‘Tikkum Olam’ which translates into ‘Repairing the World,’ humanity’s responsibility to make good amongst our nation and others, and bring justice to all mankind.”
There are an estimated 1.5 million landmines and UXO (unexploded ordinance) in The Holy Land. Following the completion of her work in Bethlehem, Kühn aims to broaden the Roots of Peace demining efforts in Qasr al Yahud, the Baptismal Site of Jesus—respected by Muslims, Christians and Jewish alike.