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Speaking out
by Aleksandra Matijevic

  To assist the victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a risky and dangerous task. Red Cross, Red Crescent magazine asked the presidents of the Magen David Adom and Palestine Red Crescent Society to discuss their work under increasingly difficult conditions.

 

Interview with Younis Al-Khatib, president of the Palestine Red Crescent Society

Can you describe the different priorities and activities of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS)?

Since September 2000 [the start of the second intifada], the PRCS has refocused its efforts and resources to meet the populations' needs. Reaching out to those who require medical care is a major challenge, because of continuous closures and numerous checkpoints. As a result, we have more than doubled the number of ambulances and primary health care centres, as well as upgraded the medical equipment within them to better deal with the emergency.

We continue to implement the recommendations made by the PRCS' National Congress. Additionally, the development of a national disaster preparedness plan is under way with the completion of the first capacity assessment study of the National Society.

We have identifIed the PRCS's role in the current situation and have been building up its capacity. A psychosocial programme to support both the staff who work long hours in difficult conditions and their families has been put in place.

Is your mission well known and respected?

The PRCS has worked for 35 years mainly in conflict or crisis situations. Our mission is widely known in the region. Some view us as an exclusively medical organization, but we also offer community development, social and youth programmes. We are well respected in the community and by the Palestinian authorities. However, the existence of the Palestinian state would help the National Society to be fully recognized.

The proliferation of different emblems used by medical services is a problem in Palestinian territories. What are your recommendations and actions to minimize the cases of non-respect of the Red Crescent and Red Cross emblems?

Legal regulations are a precondition for monitoring the abuse of the emblems. When the PRCS set up its national headquarters in Palestine in 1994, different medical services were using the emblems inappropriately. It was not an easy situation. There was no authority that could address abuses and enhance respect for the emblems. The situation was further aggravated by the second intifada, as people's need for protection of some sort greatly increased. Recently the PRCS and the ICRC started an emblem-awareness campaign using local radio and TV stations. Talks are also ongoing with the authorities to try to minimize the proliferation of emblems.

Although not officially recognized, the PRCS cooperates with the various components of the Movement and the Magen David Adom. What do you see as the most important aspects of this cooperation?

The commitment of the PRCS to the humanitarian principles of the Movement is strong, and this, to us, is more important than recognition itself.

From late September 2000 to March 2001, three Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) staff were killed in the line of dutyy. Some 126 volunteers and personnel have been injured. Over the same period, six Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency health workers were injured while responding to the crisis.

 

Since 1994, the ICRC has been instrumental in helping to set up the PRCS's national emergency medical service, enabling it to face the current crisis. It has also played an important role in facilitating the passage of our ambulances. Over 70 per cent of ambulances have been damaged by the Israeli army and 121 of our staff have been wounded during the intifada. Both are grave violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Federation and numerous National Societies support our institutional development programmes. We cooperate with MDA for the sake of our shared humanitarian mission and for saving lives on both sides. We have treated injured Israeli soldiers and settlers, even though we consider them an occupying force.

What are your management challenges today?

The main challenge is managing a National Society that is not able to move freely. Without the dedication of the staff, and the support of the ICRC, we would not have been able to work at all. The control that the Israelis have over our access to patients, medical care and supplies is the major challenge to overcome.

What is your greatest hope for 2002?

We all hope that a peace agreement can be reached, which guarantees the dignity of the Palestinians and a secure future for both Palestinian and Israeli children.

Interview with Dr. Moshe Melloul, president of the Magen David Adom (MDA)

You have been the president of Magen David Adom since 1999. What do you consider to be the MDA's major achievement during this period?

The MDA is strong in emergency medical services, blood services and medical training. In the last two years, our medical teams have overcome many difficulties resulting from the current situation. They have done their best to respond quickly and offer quality treatment indiscriminately. Our ambulances have been damaged, and sometimes we have had to work under fire. Despite the obstacles, our work has saved many lives. I am proud that we can supply safe blood to hospitals quickly.

Even during the most difficult moments, we have continued to cooperate with the PRCS. The goodwill on both sides enabled the signing of an agreement of understanding in Geneva in December 2000. Both organizations stand by their humanitarian commitment, for which they received the humanitarian prize from Oslo University in October 2001.

  What socio-medical role does the MDA fulfil in Israel today?

The MDA is mainly involved in medical activities and pre-hospital emergency response, as well as blood services. Its social role is not yet prominent, but there are plans to implement several projects to support the vulnerable and minorities. The MDA participates in dissemination within the Israeli army and is working on a programme to teach international humanitarian law (IHL) in schools and universities.

Currently the MDA is not a recognized National Society, but cooperation with other components of the Movement is ongoing. Could you name some of them and describe this cooperation?

Before September 2000, the MDA strengthened its cooperation with the PRCS. Additionally, a list of joint projects with neighbouring National Societies was prepared. Their implementation now depends on the political situation.

The MDA has provided humanitarian aid to Bosnia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Turkey and India. It has had a number of contacts and projects with National Societies, either bilaterally or arranged via the Federation, such as tracing services, emergency response units, blood services and medical training. The MDA works together with the American Red Cross to support bone-marrow transplants, tracing and dissemination of IHL.

What is your evaluation of the ongoing process to adopt the Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and what implications do you envisage for the MDA?

In principle, both the MDA and the State of Israel favour the adoption of the Third Additional Protocol, although with certain restrictions that can be overcome. The process is in the hands of the states parties. In the meantime, the MDA, the Federation and the ICRC need to find a creative solution that would allow the MDA to be closely associated to the Movement until the political situation allows resuming the state-run process about the MDA's full membership. The recognition of the MDA is very important.

The MDA is a professional and experienced humanitarian society that can contribute its knowledge and skills to many other National Societies and strengthen the Movement.

 
 

What are the MDA's main challenges today?

We are trying to cope with the extra burden that the uprising added to our activities and budget. We also need to widen the spectrum of our activities in order to assist the vulnerable, both Jewish and Arab. Finally, the MDA must be more involved in the internationally growing demands for IHL dissemination.

What is your greatest hope for 2002?

My main wish is that things will improve for both Palestinians and Israelis. I also hope that the MDA be welcomed to the Movement with open arms. Lastly, I would like to strengthen our relationship with neighbouring Red Crescent societies. We are open to cooperation and friendship with any of them.

Aleksandra Matijevic
Aleksandra Matijevic is ICRC communications coordinator in Jerusalem

     

From late September 2000 to March 2001, three Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) staff were killed in the line of dutyy. Some 126 volunteers and personnel have been injured. Over the same period, six Magen David Adom (MDA) emergency health workers were injured while responding to the crisis.



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