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Magen David Adom in Israel

By Barbara Geary
With 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.

International contacts

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 is everything.”


Barbara Geary

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