Magen David Adom in Israel
By Barbara Geary
a 1995 operating budget of US$ 47 million, 800 paid staff and
over 5,000 volunteers, Israel’s Magen David Adom assists
countless individuals in Israel and in Israeli settlements in
the Occupied Territories.
“I love it.” This sentence, stated simply and
categorically, comes from Marion Kopelman, a paramedic who
is talking about her job. She is sitting in a mobile intensive
care unit at an MDA first-aid station in Petach Tikva and
has just returned from rescuing a woman who’d fallen
into a diabetic coma. Three of her colleagues stand nearby
listening. They nod in agreement.
Marion works for the Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David),
Israel’s equivalent of a National Red Cross Society.
Founded in 1930 and mandated by the Israeli parliament in
1950 to function as a National Society in accordance with
the Geneva Conventions, the Magen David Adom (MDA) provides
ambulance and mobile intensive care unit services, blood services
and training throughout Israel. It also participates in international
activities within and outside the International Red Cross
and Red Crescent Movement.
In case of emergency
First aid is the backbone of the MDA and years of conflict
in the region have ensured excellence in this field. MDA paid
staff and volunteers operate over 500 ambulances, 47 mobile
intensive care units, 20 mobile field first-aid units and
19 bloodmobiles. Forty-three first-aid stations scattered
thoughout Israel function 24 hours a day to assist anyone
in need of emergency medical care.
MDA also serves as the nation’s blood bank and meets
almost all of Israel’s civilian and military requirements
for blood. In 1994, it collected 220,000 units of blood, falling
just short of 270,000 units needed. In mid-1995, a new fractionation
institute is scheduled to open.
Instruction in first aid is another of MDA’s specialities.
Each year, MDA trains some 50,000 residents. Since December
1987 when the intifada began in the territories occupied
by Israel, MDA has cooperated with the PRCS by opening its
courses to PRCS members, hospital personnel and charity organisations
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To date, some 1,200 Palestinians
have participated in three-week courses in medic driving and
resuscitation. Approximately 90 per cent of the students were
from the West Bank; 10 per cent from the Gaza Strip.
A unique network of support for the Magen David Adom has
developed around the world. Dating back to MDA’s earliest
days, groups known as “Friends of MDA” collect
funds for the development of the organisation and meet annually.
Presently, there are 16 member “Friends Societies”
scattered across five continents and their support is invaluable
to the MDA. For its part, MDA also makes it a point to support
others in times of need. It has always sent relief to other
countries, especially in times of natural disaster. In 1994,
MDA sent medical supplies to Rwandan refugees in Zaire and
to those affected by floods in Djibouti.
The Magen David Adom is not officially recognised by the
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. According
to the Statutes of the Movement, one of the conditions for
such recognition is that the National Society use one of the
emblems identified in the Geneva Conventions. MDA, as its
name indicates, uses the red shield of David which is not
identified in the conventions.
Dan Arnon, Director of International Affairs at MDA, points
out that this exclusion is regrettable. “The purpose
and the importance of the emblem,” he says, “is
both its protective and indicative nature. The request for
a full recognition of the emblem, which has always been an
integral part of our history in its darkest and most painful
days and in its renaissance, should not and cannot be renounced.”
The red shield of David is certainly a familiar sign throughout
Israel and it symbolises a Society of which its members are
proud. Ofra Harari is a 17-year-old volunteer at the MDA first-aid
station in Petach Tikva. Her enthusiasm, as she speaks about
her commitment to MDA, is almost palpable. “Here you
have the feeling to do something that really matters. We don’t
get paid or formally recognised for our work, but that doesn’t
make any difference because the feeling that comes when you
help others is more than enough; the feeling to be needed
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