The International Committee of the Red Cross’s 30th International Conference, just held in Geneva, has called on the Israel and Palestinian national societies to cooperate more effectively in order to improve humanitarian assistance. Of course, this really means: to improve humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians — as the Israelis are already very well taken care of.
Full implementation of their 2005 agreement between the Israeli and Palestinian national societies remained a problem, ICRC official Par Stenback said. This agreement allowed the subsequent adoption of a new international symbol (called the “crystal”, probably because the word begins with a “C” like cross and crescent, though it looks more like what is know as a diamond shape) which would accomodate the Israeli wish to use a red Star of David as their national emblem on an equal basis with the red cross and the red crescent. (Now, a red Star of David (Magen David Adom) can be placed in the center of the “crystal”, but there are complicated details in the agreement about where this symbol can be used).
A statement issued by the U.S. Mission in Geneva after the decision (see below) said that the resolution also provided for “the appointment of an Independent Monitor to monitor the implementation of the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding between the two societies”. So, we will now have another international figure serving, somehow, as “Independent Monitor” to arbitrate (?) between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Kol Israel radio reported from Jerusalem Friday night that the new resolution adopted unanimously by the Geneva international conference earlier in the day meant that there should be better cooperation in ensuring fast passage for ambulances at checkpoints. Citing a Red Cross official, Kol Israel said that the aim was to call on Israeli authorities to allow Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances to move freely in Palestinian territory.
In a report to the last day of the international conference in Geneva, Par Stenback said, however, that news had come of the deployment of five Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulances in [East] Jerusalem. He also said that the issue of geographical jurisdiction between the two National Societies had been “advanced”.
Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem can get Israeli Magen David Adom ambulances to help in the event of a medical emergency — but, since the Second Palestinian intifada, the Israeli ambulances will only come to their neighborhoods if they are accompanied by well-armed Israeli police cars, one resident said.
As American-backed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations move ahead, the issue of East Jerusalem is one of the hottest on the political agenda. Israeli leader Ehud Olmert has spoken positively about a proposal advanced by his deputy, Haim Ramon, to turn over some Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, seized by Israeli in the 1967 war, to Palestinian Authority control. The proposal is opposed not only by Jewish nationalists, but also by some East Jerusalem Palestinians.
As the American government moves to ensure that both Israelis and Palestinians implement their obligations under the first phase of The Road Map — including the restoration of Palestinian insitutions in East Jerusalem — the deployment of five Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulances there will be seen as a political move, as well as a humanitarian gesture.
The ICRC’s international conference in Geneva, which was led by John Bellinger, legal advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, put out a press release Friday which reported that “The 30th International Conference marked the first time that the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the Magen David Adom (MDA), the national societies of Palestine and Israel, participated in an international Red Cross and Red Crescent conference as full members. The United States was pleased to have facilitated their admission into the Movement at the 29th International Conference held in June 2006. Since their entry into the movement in 2006, these two societies have worked together to strengthen humanitarian assistance for those in need and to build bridges between their peoples. The 30th International Conference adopted by consensus a resolution urging the two societies to enhance their cooperation, calling on the authorities concerned to facilitate this cooperation, and calling for the appointment of an Independent Monitor to monitor the implementation of the 2005 Memorandum of Understanding between the two societies. Mr. Bellinger said, ‘the U.S. Government is extremely pleased that the resolution was adopted by consensus, without acrimony or politics. The U.S. Government is committed to full implementation of the MOU between the two Societies’. The United States was also pleased that the delegations from Israel and the PRCS were able to work out the final operational details that enabled for the first time five PRCS ambulances to enter into service today in East Jerusalem. The United States Government and the American Red Cross served as official witnesses to the signing as part of their facilitation of cooperation among the Government of Israel, the PRCS, and the MDA”.
The resolution passed by delegations at the 30th international ICRC meeting of states parties to the Geneva Convention came on the same day as an interim decision by the Israeli High (Supreme) Court on a petition brought by the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights concerning the difficulties and delays in allowing medical patients to leave Gaza for appropriate treatment. Palestinian news agencies report nearly 20 deaths in recent weeks of Gazan patients awaiting medical evacuation.
Israel’s Ynet news reported that “The High Court of Justice requested Thursday that the state grant four terminally sick Gazans unhindered passage to Jordan via Israel. In their decision, the judges wrote that ‘even if we were dealing with wicked people, no one has any right to prevent them from gaining access to life-saving treatment’. The decision was delivered in the case of a petition presented by Doctors for Human Rights, which asked the state to allow 11 terminally ill patients to be treated in Israel, or to pass through for treatment in West Bank, Egypt, or Jordan. Since the petition reached the court, one of the patients, 21 year-old Na’al al-Kurdi, passed away. After a two and a half week delay, the court asked the state to examine the possibility of treating the patients in Israel or in a neighboring state … The judges did not deliver a final verdict in the case, but only asked the state to probe the issue and set a week limit for the latter to respond in full to the court’s suggestion … Members of Doctors for Human Rights welcomed the court’s acceptance of the principle that it is forbidden to deny medical treatment because of security obstacles. ‘We have to follow up and verify that the patients are granted passage as the court asked the state, because between declarations and quotidian reality lies a considerable distance’, and organization spokesman said”. The YNet report on the Israeli High Court action is here.