The Diplomatic Conference of all states party to the Geneva Conventions voted yesterday in Geneva to recognize a new, crystal-shaped symbol for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement that willl enable the admittance of Magen David Adom - Israel's rescue, first-aid, and blood supply organization - along with the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Israel was the only state in the world that was not a member of the international lifesaving organization.
The adoption of this Third Additional Protocol of the Geneva Conventions enables MDA to continue to use its traditional red Star of David symbol in Israel and the territories. It will, however, use the red star inside a red diamond-shaped border on relief missions abroad, and can use an empty diamond frame whenever MDA staffers feel the star symbol places them at risk abroad.
The signing of an agreement between the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the Magen David Adom (MDA) on November 28 contributed to the successful outcome of the Conference. Under the terms of the agreement signed by MDA chairman Dr. Noam Yifrach and his counterpart at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), Younis al-Khatib, MDA recognizes the PRCS's right to care for Palestinians in the PA-administered territories, while the PRCS recognizes MDA's right to treat Israeli citizens in Israel and the territories. In addition, both parties agreed to install a hot line between their respective dispatching centers and Yifrach also promised to assist the PRCS in case its ambulances are delayed at security checkpoints.
The signing of the Third Additional Protocol marks the end of the diplomatic process. The Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has decided to call an International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2006 to amend the statutes of the movement, taking into account the creation of the new emblem. The new emblem emphasizes the universality of the ICRC. In addition to MDA, the new emblem will also enable states like Eritrea and Kazakhstan, who have asked to use traditional emblems, to use the crystal emblem.
Magen David Adom Chairman Dr. Noam Yifrach said Israel's membership in the Red Cross will improve MDA's service within Israel and will allow access to international funds and medical knowledge. ICRC spokesman in Tel Aviv Uriel Masad said MDA cold join the Red Cross during the next year if it fulfills all requirements, including proving that 50 percent of its personnel are volunteers and showing that it operates according to Red Cross principles.
Magen David Adom and the Third Protocol to the Geneva Conventions
On December 8, 2005, a Diplomatic Conference of States Parties to the Geneva Conventions overwhelmingly voted to adopt a Third Protocol to the Geneva Conventions. The Protocol paves the way for full membership of the Magen David Adom Society in the Red Cross Movement, and, after fifty years of waiting, to give due recognition to Israel's national humanitarian society.
Under the new Protocol, MDA may continue to use its traditional Shield of David emblem and to call itself the Magen David Adom Society without any change in its manner of operation within Israel's national territory.
Outside Israel's national territory, MDA may incorporate the Shield of David emblem inside the new emblem established by the Third Protocol - an empty square frame, termed a 'crystal'. In practice, MDA has stated that it is considering adopting the new emblem of the Shield of David within the crystal in all circumstances to avoid any need for changing emblems.
At the same time, the Protocol provides a solution - the crystal used by itself - for those states and international organizations operating in areas where the existing emblems are problematic.
After waiting more than fifty years, MDA can now continue to use its traditional emblem and, for the first time in its history, be eligible for membership in the ICRC Movement.
Following the adoption of the Protocol it is now necessary for the International Conference of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to adopt the necessary amendments to Movement's statutes to reflect the new emblem, and a subsequently for a decision by International committee of the Red Cross to be taken to finally recognize MDA as a fully fledged member.
For over 50 years, Israel's Red Cross society, the Magen David Adom, has not been able to be a member of the International Red Cross Movement. Despite its international reputation for the high standards of its services and its speedy responses to international disasters, the reason for its exclusion has been the fact that the Statutes of the Movement require national societies "to use the name and emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in conformity with the Geneva Conventions." For historical, religious and national reasons, the use of these emblems to mark Israel and MDA's medical and religious personnel is clearly not practicable.
The issue of amending this emblem requirement has been on the agenda of the International Red Cross Movement for over 50 years. At the Diplomatic Conference adopting the Geneva Conventions in 1949 Israel submitted a formal proposal to the effect that a Red Shield of David on a white background should be recognized as a distinctive emblem but, by the narrowest margin of 22 votes to 21, the amendment was not adopted.
Over subsequent decades the issue of the non-inclusion of MDA in the movement remained a subject of concern to both Israel and the Red Cross Movement, and in 1999 a joint Working Group on emblems was set up with the mandate of proposing a comprehensive solution to issues relating to the emblems. These issues included not only the exclusion of MDA from the Movement, but also the problems faced by other states and societies (Kazakhstan and Eritrea were mentioned) operating in areas of mixed populations where neither of the existing emblems was satisfactory.
In making its proposal, the joint Working Group adopted a number of key principles. Two of these principles were:
- That States and National societies using the existing emblems should not be forced to renounce or change their emblem.
- That any proliferation of emblems must be avoided.
These principles meant that the two most appealing solutions for Israel, the adoption of a new neutral emblem for use by all parties, or the addition of the Shield of David as an additional emblem were effectively ruled out. A new universal emblem would require states which had used the cross or the crescent for over 100 years to change their emblem, and the ICRC would not support such a demand. The ICRC also ruled out the addition of the Shield of David as an additional emblem, arguing that this would not address the problem of other States and National Societies interested in using a new neutral emblem. It was also argued that having an emblem used by only one country, was contrary to the principles of universality.
Given these limitations, the Working Group proposed a new solution. In addition to the red cross and the red crescent a new neutral emblem would be adopted. This would have the same protective status as the existing emblems and could be used by any state or national society.
For indicative purposes, national societies could include within the new emblem any of the existing emblems or a combination of the two, or in the case of Israel, the Shield of David. At the same time, MDA would be entitled to continue to use the Shield of David, unaffected, within Israel. Israel had long advocated the recognition of the Shield of David as an additional emblem alongside the cross and the crescent. However, when it became clear that no progress was feasible in this direction, it agreed to support the ICRC proposal which in practice would enable MDA to continue to use its historic emblem.
A draft Third Protocol reflecting this approach was proposed in 2000 and a Diplomatic Conference was planned for October that year in order to adopt the Protocol. However due to the outbreak of violence in the territories in September 2000, the Diplomatic Conference was not convened.
In 2005 renewed steps were taken to convene a Diplomatic Conference to adopt the draft Protocol proposed in 2000. There was vocal opposition to this move, primarily from Arab and Moslem states, who argued that "the time was not ripe". However in the face of widespread consensus that there was no excuse for failing to rectify the unjust exclusion of MDA from the Movement, these states, though the OIC, sought to undermine the proposed adoption of the protocol in two ways. The first was a series of proposed "amendments" to the Protocol which would have effectively emptied it of content. Many of these had been proposed in 2000, but by the Conference of 2005, this list of "amendments" had been considerably expanded.
At the same time the OIC insisted that the adoption of a new emblem which could be used by MDA, including in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights had political implications that needed to be addressed. In a gesture of accession to this demand, the Swiss government agreed to condition the holding of the Diplomatic Conference on the holding of dialogue between MDA and neighboring national societies on issues relating to the humanitarian cooperation and the use of the emblem.
On 28 November, 2005, following dialogue between MDA and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) under the auspices of Switzerland, the two national societies reached a series of understandings on the way in which they would operate after MDA would be accepted into the Movement.
With the issue of the cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian National societies already addressed, the OIC were forced to base their opposition to the adoption of the Protocol on the need for similar understandings between MDA and the Syrian national Society (SARCS). MDA expressed willingness to meet with SARCS and to discuss any genuinely humanitarian issue. SARCS for its part refused to meet with Israeli representatives, and insisted that any arrangements include political issues. In these demands SARCS was supported by the OIC.
At the conclusion of the Diplomatic Conference, it became apparent that, contrary to the hopes of almost everyone concerned, the issue could not be resolved through consensus and the Third Protocol was put to a vote. Despite grandstanding from the Syrian representative and the OIC, the Protocol was decisively adopted by 98 votes in favor to 27 against, with all the OIC amendments being rejected, paving the way for full membership of MDA in the Red Cross Movement for the first time in its history.
At the adoption of the Protocol, Israel's Ambassador to Geneva, in his explanation of vote, commented:
"I permit myself to think that Henri Dunant, the visionary founder of the ICRC, and a passionate supporter of the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel, woiuld have been proud of his Movement today."
FM Shalom welcomes ICRC decision
(Communicated by the Foreign Minister's Bureau)
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Silvan Shalom today welcomed the decision of the International Red Cross to adopt a new, neutral emblem.
"During the past three years I have pushed hard to end the historic discrimination which prevented MDA from joining the ICRC. Now, due to Israel's active efforts, the way has finally been paved for MDA to be accepted into the International Red Cross."
"The vote on this issue also reflects Israel's improved international standing in recent years. Israel can today promote initiatives in the international arena more freely and more effectively than it has been able to for many years. This is yet another achievement for Israel's diplomacy, joining a long list of other successes in recent months."