Archive for the 'Red Cross' Category

Israel approves Palestinian-run ambulances in Jerusalem

Last-minute Israeli approval to the operation of Palestinian ambulance teams in Arab-populated areas of eastern Jerusalem prevented a rocky conclusion to an international Red Cross and Red Crescent conference that wrapped up today in Geneva. The ambulances are staffed by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) but bear Israeli license plates and are subject to Israeli health regulation.

Delegates from national governments and relief societies adopted a consensual resolution expressing “concern” over the implementation of a ground-breaking 2005 memorandum of understanding between the PRCS and its Israeli counterpart, the Magen David Adom, which deals with Palestinian ambulances in Jerusalem and Israeli ambulances operating in the West Bank. Agreement today between Israeli and Palestinian delegates prevented a much harsher text from being introduced by Arab states, which would have sought to condemn Israel in tones similar to those common in many UN bodies.

In his speech to the plenary, the head of the Palestinian society announced it had received guarantees to operate ambulances in eastern Jerusalem, and that an hour and a half later they were operating. The PRCS called on Israel to embrace the cooperation between the two relief societies, “a genuine example of peace-building in the region.”

The Magen David Adom said that the PRCS is the first Palestinian legal entity to operate in Jerusalem with the agreement of Israel, and that it wanted to open relations with the Lebanese and the Syrian societies as well.

The Palestinian government’s representative praised the spirit of the Annapolis peace conference and thanked Israel and its national society for their efforts toward the full implementation of the 2005 cooperation agreement.

The Union of the Arab Red Crescent Societies called for “an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people,” and asked for measures similar to the Israel-Palestinian memorandum be extended to the Golan.

The head of the U.S. delegation, John B. Bellinger, welcomed the resolution and said that the U.S. was committed to results on the ground. The American Red Cross said it was impressed by the cooperation between the two societies offered their good offices for the future.

Pakistan, on behalf of the Islamic group of states, called the consensual adoption of the resolution a “historic moment,” and they appreciated Israel’s resolve to support consensus.

Israel said this was the first Red Cross conference where the Magen David Adom participated as a full member. Israel was committed to continue facilitating the arrangements and today the ambulances were in operation. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the UN General Assembly vote to establish a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine, Israeli Ambassador Isaac Levanon said that they “are still waiting for that vision of the two states to become a reality.”

Egypt on behalf of the African Group urged the Israeli authorities to fully implement the 2005 memorandum. Iraq on behalf of the Arab group said that promises had been made to Syria and Lebanon on humanitarian needs.

Dr. Jakob Kellenberger of the International Committee of the Red Cross paid tribute to “the courage” of the Israeli and Palestinian societies, and said his organization would continue to push for the full implementation of the 2005 agreement.

Arab states at Red Cross conference seek to censure Israel and Magen David Adom

At the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent now underway in Geneva, the Arab states are seeking to condemn Israel for “inhumane practices,” “the lack of commitment demonstrated by the Israeli authorities to the principles of international humanitarian law,” alleging that Israel’s relief society is not complying with a recent agreement signed with its Palestinian counterpart.  (See two draft resolutions below.)

One of the draft resolutions cites a new report, authored by former Finnish Prime Minister Mr. Par Stenback, as alleged proof that the Israeli authorities and the Magen David Adom, Israel’s humanitarian society, are not cooperating with the Red Cross Movement or respecting their prior commitments.

The Stenback report itself, however, says no such thing. While shortcomings are identified, Mr. Stenback describes the cooperation between the MDA and the Palestinian Red Crescent in several fields as “exemplary of how sister Societies can and should co-operate.” Mr. Stenback also recognizes the good will shown by the Israeli authorities, stating that “interventions by the Prime Minister’s office have facilitated the process by giving the political directives needed in order to resolve a number of bureaucratic issues.”

It is unfortunate that the Arab relief societies have chosen to drag atavistic politics into the Red Cross Movement, a forum dedicated to the principle of humanitarian cooperation. The danger is real that, if the censure is adopted, the resort to partisan point-scoring might upset the fragile new relationship that the Steinback report seeks to protect and cultivate.

Related texts from this week’s conference: