This story has crept by under the radar, but it was brought to my attention just yesterday by Zvi who lives in the Shomron. He heard about it from arguments in their local town council about funding of various community services including ambulances.
The prime Israeli ambulance service is Magen David Adom (“MDA” , lit: Red Star of David) and it is funded mainly by private donations and “friends” organizations all over the world. For decades MDA was barred from joining the International Red Cross organization for all sorts of obscure reasons, one of the prime ones of which was “the proliferation of too many symbols” in the organization. This did not explain the acceptance of the Red Crescent organization in Muslim countries or Red Lion organizations in Asian regions. It was widely felt that MDA’s rejection was a cover for antisemitism.
In 2006, MDA was finally admitted to the ICRC:
In her March 2000 letter to the International Herald Tribune, Dr. Bernadine Healy, then president of the American Red Cross, wrote: “The international committee’s feared proliferation of symbols is a pitiful fig leaf, used for decades as the reason for excluding the Magen David Adom — the Shield (or Star) of David.” In protest, the American Red Cross withheld millions in administrative funding to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies(IFRC) since May 2000.
Since the mid-1990s, there has also been extensive and growing co-operation between MDA and the ICRC including, among other things, a $2.2 million expenditure on strengthening ties between the two organisations, the signing in 2000 of a two year co-operation statement, the permanent placement of an ICRC co-operation officer in MDA headquarters, and extensive support of the MDA’s blood bank activities. In addition, there are bilateral cooperation agreements between MDA and a number of national Red Cross societies.
On December 7, 2005, a diplomatic conference of states party to the Geneva Conventions adopted a third additional protocol, thereby introducing a new protective emblem, dubbed the “Red Crystal.” This “third protocol emblem” is hailed as a truly universal emblem free of religious, ethnic, or political connotation. The new symbol is a red square frame tilted at a 45 degree angle. According to the rules of the third additional protocol, MDA can continue to use the Red Star of David as its sole emblem for indicative purposes within Israel. For indicative use in abroad missions, MDA can, depending on the specific situation in the host country, either incorporate the Red Star of David inside the Red Crystal or use the Red Crystal alone.
On June 22, 2006, MDA was recognised by the ICRC and admitted as a full member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, following adoption of the Red Crystal symbol in the statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on the same level as the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols.
Yonatan Yagodovsky, director of MDA’s fundraising department, said in an article published in October 2011 regarding the use of their logo in the West Bank that “MDA will continue to use its emblem and logo, and no one ever asked us to take it off.“
The footnote at the end of the highlighted sentence above takes us to an article in the Canadian Jewish Tribune which rather contradicts Yagodovsky’s words:
The controversy over the alleged removal of the familiar red Star of David logo representing the Magen David Adom (MDA) first aid organization from ambulances operating in Judea and Samaria apparently has not been resolved. Not for the first time, the issue came to the fore this past summer when Israeli media reported that the traditional MDA logo on ambulances in Judea and Samaria had been replaced by a white, six-pointed star in a red circle.
Yesha (Judea and Samaria) Council Chairman Dani Dayan accused Israel’s premiere emergency medical service of caving to political pressure, which MDA denied.
“It is quite clear that the reason is political,” Dayan asserted in a Jerusalem Post column at the time.
Approached by the Jewish Tribune for an update, Dayan said he was now trying to resolve the issue quietly rather than speaking with media.
Yonatan Yagodovsky, director of MDA’s fundraising department, told the Tribune in a telephone interview: “I don’t know what there is to resolve…. MDA will continue to use its emblem and logo, and no one ever asked us to take it off – not now, not in 2006 when we were accepted to the International Red Cross and not before that.”
Yagodovsky then tries to wriggle out of the removal of the Magen David symbol:
“MDA operates ambulances in our stations throughout the country, including Judea and Samaria,” Yagodovsky stated. “All the ambulances operating from MDA stations carry the MDA logo without any change. In general, there are ambulances that are close to the end of the service; we call them senior ambulances. They’ve been in service five or six years and they operate inside and outside the Green Line…. Since these ambulances are operated by councils and team members of the councils, they are not MDA ambulances. Therefore, we have decided to mark them in a different way.”
This claim however is completely discounted by an MDA volunteer:
One Yesha resident with connections to MDA, who asked to remain anonymous, challenged the notion that the so-called senior ambulances are not MDA property, claiming that they’re operated by MDA volunteers and the gas and expenses are paid for by MDA. In fact, MDA is listed on the ownership papers, he said.
Arutz Sheva expands on this controversy:
The Magen David Adom first response organization is removing its trademark red Star of David symbol from ambulances used in Israeli towns east of the 1949 armistice line, community leaders in Judea and Samaria have reported. The move is apparently part of an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has previously taken exception to use of the Star.
Moves to recognize the armistice line as having special meaning are controversial in Israel. They are often seen as siding with the Palestinian Authority, which insists on treating the line — also referred to as the pre-1967 line — as a border even though it has no legal significance.
Judea and Samaria community leaders accused MDA of using subterfuge to make the switch. Ambulances that were sent for repairs were returned with the new symbols, they said.
MDA admits to changing the symbols on many ambulances, but denies that the change is connected to towns’ location on either side of the armistice line.
“MDA operates two types of ambulances. One is operated from MDA stations, while the other includes community ambulances, present in villages, kibbutzim, moshavim… The communities operate the ambulances independently, pay the workers’ salaries and are responsible for repairs,” the organization said in a statement.
“MDA decided to change the writing on the community ambulances so that it would be clear which community they are located in, and which community operated them,” the statement continued.
The group denied rumors that MDA had agreed not to operate east of the armistice line.
However, Judea and Samaria leaders remained suspicious of the true motives behind the change. An appeal to MDA was met with a statement saying, in part, that the move to change the symbols had been made “in coordination with the Foreign Ministry” – a clear indicator, leaders said, that the move was in fact political.
Judea and Samaria (Yesha) Council members were not appeased by MDA’s assurances that “community ambulances” west of the armistice line would eventually have the same symbol change. The “community ambulances” in question are used in Arab villages whose residents do not care for the regular Star of David symbol, they argued.
However the Jerusalem Post in its own write-up brings the MDA leadership’s denial of any policy to change the famous Red Star of David symbol:
Magen David Adom defended itself Tuesday against accusations by settlers that it had politicized medical service by removing its classic logo of the Red Star of David from ambulances servicing Israelis living in Judea and Samaria.
The Council of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip made this charge after the logo on the ambulance servicing the Kiryat Arba settlement was switched to the outline of a white six-pointed star in a red circle. Inside the star is the international medical symbol.
Council head Dani Dayan charged that MDA had caved to a demand by the International Committee of the Red Cross in a 2005 agreement not to use the Red Star logo in regions beyond the pre-1967 border.
MDA spokesman Zaki Heller rejected Dayan’s claims.
He said that in order to join the ICRC Israel had agreed in 2005 not to use its classic logo when operating outside of Israel. Instead, MDA agreed to place the star inside a red diamond.
But, Heller said, MDA continues to use the classic Red Star logo on its ambulances housed in 12 places across the West Bank.
What did occur, in a nod to the ICRC, is that MDA decided not to place its classic Red Star of David logo on ambulances that were owned by individual communities and only jointly operated with MDA, Heller said.
To ensure that this was not viewed as a political statement regarding Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, said Heller, MDA decided to changes the logos on all such ambulances across the country.
So who is right and where does the truth rest? We shall find out as ambulances are refurbished, repaired and acquired.
This matter goes beyond a question of a mere symbol on an ambulance, something that ordinarily would be considered a minor issue of design. The acceptance or rejection of the Red Magen David goes right to the heart of the acceptance of the State of Israel, with its Jewish character and symbols, into the community of nations. It also points to the steadfastness or otherwise of our leaders in the face of international pressure from foreign NGOs, organizations and governments.