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Israel's Magen David Adom and the International Red Cross: The Long Road to Acceptance

Posted: June 22, 2006

On June 21, 2006, Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel's official emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service, was finally accepted as a full member in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), during the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva.  Two hundred and thirty seven countries voted to admit Magen David Adom, 54 voted against the move and 18 abstained. The motion was adopted in a vote after Arab and Muslim countries rejected all the compromise proposals aimed at reaching a consensus.

MDA had long been denied full membership in the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) because it uses the Red Star of David (the Magen David) as its emblem, and under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, member national societies of the ICRC are required to accept the "Ten Conditions for Recognition" including that they, "Use the name and emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in conformity with the Geneva Conventions." The ICRC had consistently maintained that this condition disqualifies MDA from being recognized as a national society.

While the pace has been glacially slow, a diplomatic conference in Geneva in December 2005 was a significant step in the process of enabling MDA to finally become a full member in the International Committee of the Red Cross.  On December 8, 2005 the signatory countries to the Geneva Conventions approved a Third Additional Protocol establishing a new neutral Red Crystal emblem by a vote of 98 in favor, 27 against, with 10 abstentions.  The Syrian delegation tried to stall the vote, but in the end was unable to prevent the adoption of the Third Protocol. 

The Process 

For many years the ICRC did little to address MDA's exclusion.  In the late 1990's progress began, and the ICRC deliberated on the development of a "neutral symbol" which would allow national societies which do not use the Red Cross or Red Crescent, such as Israel's and Eriterea, to be full participants in the ICRC.  While each national society would use their own symbol in their own country, they would adopt the additional officially recognized emblem when working internationally.  In addition, this neutral emblem could also be utilized by ICRC members operating in locales where the Red Cross and Red Crescent are not respected or have been targeted.  In 2000, a new neutral "red crystal" emblem for States and for the Red Cross movement was finally agreed upon. 

Because the Red Cross was established through the Geneva Conventions, the signatories need to approve the adoption of this additional emblem (outlined in a "Third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions).  Such approval must come through a diplomatic conference of the 181 countries which are signatories to the Conventions.  The process for convening a diplomatic conference of the signatory countries has been drawn out and delayed by tensions in the Middle East (it was to have taken place in November 2000, but was cancelled due to the outbreak of Palestinian violence that September).
 
Despite the foot dragging, through this interim period, MDA has become more active in ICRC projects and operations, including the ICRCresponse to the December 2004 Tsunami.   In 2002, MDA and the American Red Cross signed a Memorandum of Understanding.  In June 2003, the ICRC signed its first cooperative agreement with MDA and over the past two years, the British and French Red Cross have established similar agreements. Most recently, in November 2005, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society signed a formal mutual recognition agreement with MDA.

Geneva Conference

In mid-September 2005, Switzerland, the depository of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, finally convened a preliminary meeting of the signatory countries to the Geneva Conventions to discuss when to hold the Diplomatic Conference.  At the September 2005 meeting, of the 120 nations in attendance, 30 countries were against holding such a conference (all but one of the countries were Arab or Muslim, and none actually opposed the text of the Additional Third Protocol accepting a new neutral emblem, but expressed concern about the timing) and 60 countries were in favor of holding a conference expeditiously.  At the meeting, the Swiss Government made clear its commitment to resolving the emblem issue. 
 
Following the consensus agreement in September, the Diplomatic Conference will be held in Geneva on December 5 and 6, 2005 with the participation of 191 governments.    It is widely anticipated that the Additional Third Protocol to the Geneva Conventions will be adopted, thereby accepting the neutral emblem and enabling Israel and others to become full members in the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Final Acceptance:  Once the Additional Third Protocol is accepted, there are still a number of bodies which must adopt the changes to the statues and officially recognize MDA and Eritrea's national society.   Finally, a 2/3 vote of the entire International General Assembly (comprised of 181 national societies of the ICRC) is required to formally accept MDA's membership into the International Committee of the Red Cross.

American Red Cross Involvement

The American Red Cross (ARC) has continuously lobbied to secure full membership for MDA in the IRC Movement and has been critical in encouraging governments to move forward with the diplomatic conference to adopt the necessary changes to the Geneva Conventions.

Largely a result of ARC efforts, in December 2003, the 28th session of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement adopted a resolution affirming their commitment to find comprehensive and lasting solutions to the issues surrounding the Movement's emblems and related laws. 

Since 2000, to protest MDA's non-admission in the IRC, the ARC has withheld 25 million in dues to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and its voluntary headquarters contributions to the ICRC. 

In November 2002, the ARC and MDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize their longstanding mutual assistance in times of need and the ARC encouraged other societies to establish similar agreements with MDA. 

 

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