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Monday, May 25, 2015

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Magen David Adom’s policy questioned

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Canadian Magen David Adom for Israel (CMDA) has not experienced any reductions in contributions from supporters concerned about the reported removal of the red Star of David from some ambulances operating in the West Bank, the organization’s national executive-director says.

Contrary to a report in Arutz Sheva, an Israeli news service, “Canadian Jews” are not pulling their donations or even calling his office to question MDA’s policy, national executive-director Arnold Rosner said.

Rosner was responding to CJN queries following publication last week of an article in Arutz Sheva that reported a group of Toronto Jews said they would no longer donate to MDA. The group said it was protesting MDA’s agreement to remove the organization’s Star of David symbol from ambulances it operates in Judea and Samaria.

Arutz Sheva reported that MDA agreed to do so as a condition of joining the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

Under a 2005 memorandum of understanding (MoU) between MDA and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), MDA recognized the Palestinian organization as “the authorized national society in the Palestinian territory.” It agreed that neither organization would operate “within the jurisdiction of the other society” unless consent was given. MDA also agreed it will have “no chapters outside the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel” and that both societies would protect their emblems against misuse.

National Union member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad criticized the agreement. He called it a “cowardly capitulation to Arab demands, backed by the International Red Cross.” He urged contributors to pull their donations from the MDA and instead support blood banks, hospitals and rescue organizations in Judea and Samaria.

Paul Rotenberg, the Toronto businessman cited in the recent Arutz Sheva article, said that while he applauds the work of CMDA, he questioned why MDA in Israel entered the agreement. The memorandum of understanding restricts its operations in Judea and Samaria and puts its residents in a bind. Israeli police had stopped MDA ambulances on the way to emergencies, telling them they are not entitled to be there, he said. “If you’re a pregnant woman in Judea and Samaria and you have to call an ambulance, you have to call the PRCS.” Rotenberg said there are documented instances when Palestinian ambulances “were not used for ambulance purposes.

“I myself am not going to donate to MDA and I know other people who won’t give donations to MDA,” he said. “My suggestion is that MDA should do what it is charged with doing, being the first responder to all Israelis.”

Rosner said following publication of the most recent Arutz Sheva article, he had been in contact with head office in Israel and updated on the situation there. MDA had sold ambulances to remote communities in the territories because they were better able to serve local needs. As the ambulances no longer belonged to MDA, the Stars of David were removed, he said.

MDA maintains some ambulances with the traditional red Star of David across the Green Line – the pre-1967 Israeli border – and in recent weeks, these vehicles had responded, along with Red Crescent emergency vehicles, to road accidents, he said.

Following adoption of the memorandum, the International Committee of the Red Cross appointed an official, Par Stenback, to monitor its implementation. In a January 2011 report, Stenback stated, “It is obvious and beyond interpretation that, when signing the MoU, MDA committed itself to cease running ambulances in the occupied Palestinian territory.” Stenback acknowledged, however, that interpretation was not shared by MDA.

Contacted in Israel, MDA spokesperson Yonatan Yagodovsky said the first aid organization operates 124 stations, 14 of them in Judea and Samaria. The ambulances there, unlike others operated by local councils and communities, are run by MDA and carry the MDA symbol.

MDA provides “equal service to people in Judea and Samaria” as well as those within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, he said.

In a video interview with Arutz Sheva, MDA director-general Eli Bin said the organization had finally joined the International Red Cross after trying to do so for 60 years. Negotiations were conducted with the participation of Israel’s ministries of health and foreign affairs and with the advice of their legal departments, he said.

Part of the agreement under which MDA joined the Red Cross relates to use of national symbols. Member organizations can use their national symbols only within their own borders, not inside other states, Bin said.

Determining territorial borders is not something MDA is qualified to do. However, Bin added, “MDA continues to operated 14 stations inside Judea and Samaria and will continue to do so forever, with or without an agreement. Period.”

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