It is an honour for me to speak here today at what may be the last meeting of the International Magen David Adom Convention before Magen David Adom in Israel is in a position to be a full member of our International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
This is because of the rapidly advancing work being done by governments towards the adoption of a Third Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions.
The draft Protocol which has been in the hands of governments since October 2000 aims at the establishment of another emblem, with the same status as the red cross and the red crescent.
It will have worldwide benefit but will also bring the red shield of David, the emblem of choice of Israel's National Society, fully within the scope and protection of international law.
This is a very significant step, and it is important that everyone dedicated to the support of Magen David Adom in Israel should appreciate what it means for the Society, both in Israel and internationally.
To make this complicated point easy, we should all be clear about just what our International Movement is.
It is big. Worldwide. Its components - this is the language of the Statutes of the Movement - are the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and all the National Societies recognised by the ICRC in accordance with the Statutes.
This is the point at which it is easy to get confused. The Geneva Conventions contain a provision relating to the respect which must be given to the staff of National Red Cross Societies and of other Voluntary Aid Societies "duly recognised and authorized by their Governments".
MDA is, of course, within this definition, having been recognised as such a Society by the Government of Israel. But a National Society is much more than this.
This is because the Movement has a much wider purpose than the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions are the life and breath of international humanitarian law, so the rights and duties of National Societies in that context are relevant to the law of armed conflict.
The Statutes of the Movement broaden the rights and duties considerably. National Societies, as components of the Movement, agree to work in pursuance of the Mission of the Movement and in accordance with its Fundamental Principles.
They also accept the responsibility to support the public authorities of their country in their humanitarian tasks, according to the needs of the people of their country.
The Statutes of the Movement also make it clear that National Societies are autonomous, with a framework which enables their voluntary members and staff to cooperate with the public authorities in the prevention of disease, the promotion of health and the mitigation of human suffering.
All the programs should be implemented for the benefit of the community.
Typical National Society programs, as mandated by the Statutes of the Movement, extend to education, health, social welfare and disaster relief in addition to the dissemination of international humanitarian law.
Against this background, the Statutes of the Movement contain ten conditions for recognition which must be met by every Society which wishes to join the Movement.
It is commonly thought that the only condition relevant to MDA's circumstances is that which relates to emblems. Article 4(5) of the Statutes requires that a Society seeking recognition must "use the name and emblem of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in conformity with the Geneva Conventions".
I shall return to this vital point later, but first note that the other nine conditions are no less important. What we in the Movement are doing now with MDA is ensuring that MDA's own statutes are in harmony with these requirements so that once the emblem issue is resolved there is no impediment to swift recognition.
By "we in the Movement" in this context I mean the ICRC and the International Federation.
For although the ICRC is the body with the task of recognising National Societies, the ICRC acts on recommendations made by a body called the Joint Statutes Commission, which the ICRC and the International Federation compose together.
The Joint Statutes Commission is tasked with discussing the ten conditions with the National Society concerned.
It uses exactly the same criteria and work methodology with all National Societies. Its formal report does not go beyond the points contained in the ten conditions, but it is normal for the discussions it undertakes to cover many other points raised by Societies as part of their own enquiry about the way the Movement works.
Let me now try to show a little of the discussions we have held with MDA, especially those of interest to MDA's International Friends.
In 1992 the then President of the ICRC, Dr Cornelio Sommaruga, set the current process in motion by calling for the resolution of the emblem question which had for so long stood in the way of the achievement of universality.
In 1995 the Standing Commission of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent set up an expert working group under the leadership of Mrs Christina Magnuson, then President of the Swedish Red Cross.
It contained members drawn from governments, National Societies, independent institutes and - importantly - some people representing community organisations linked to Israel.
The expert group was asked to examine the entirety of the emblem question. It was, and is, much more than universality, for perceptions of religious or other connotation were by then of growing concern to many in the Movement.
There were, and still are, some parts of the world where neither of the emblems in use are seen by the people on the ground as neutral.
By 1999, after intensive work, several options had been identified, all of which would have required treaty action by governments to provide the answers we were seeking.
This is, in a nutshell, because the emblems we use are established by governments in a treaty. They are the property of governments, not of the Movement or its institutions, and this is imperative because of the need for them to bring a neutral symbol into conflict zones.
Governments and National Societies, meeting together at the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999 accepted the recommendation that a Joint Working Group composed of Government and National Society representatives should bring the issue to conclusion through the drafting of a Protocol to stand with the Geneva Conventions.
The ambition, agreed by all, was that the outcome should be a comprehensive and lasting solution, acceptable to all.
Israel took part in the Joint Working Group, with representatives present at all stages from the government and from MDA.
The answer was found without difficulty, in a constructive atmosphere. The main drafting work was completed in a few months, with agreement that the Protocol should create an additional emblem of equal status with the existing ones.
It was also agreed that the exercise should not open the door to the further proliferation of emblems, but that the Protocol should be framed in such a way as to establish an emblem which would be of global benefit while providing a formula which would enable Israel's National Society to continue using its red shield of David.
Treaties are adopted by what are known in the international community as "diplomatic conferences". The conference which would have finalised negotiation on the draft in 2000 was scheduled to meet on 25 and 26 October, but that did not happen.
Switzerland, which is the country responsible for convening the conference, was obliged to postpone the conference because the outbreak of conflict here in Israel/Palestine deprived us of the widespread agreement which is important to any such instrument.
The International Federation, which had played a key role along with the ICRC in the drafting of the Protocol, established its representative office with MDA in Tel Aviv in December 2000.
When, by mid-2001, it was clearly unlikely that the conference would be convened quickly, we decided that the momentum and the hope generated by the drafting process should not be lost, and in May 2001 the Secretary General visited Israel for discussions with MDA and the Government of Israel on how best to proceed.
Our starting point was that although the diplomatic conference had not convened, this was simply a matter of timing.
In addition although the text of the Protocol had not received final approval, it was clear that there was agreement on its substance.
Our aim then was to discuss our hope that the draft Protocol would be able to be used as a basis for the rapid expansion of our relationship with MDA.
We said we would wish to organise the relationship in exactly the same way as we manage our relationships with our member National Societies.
In other words, we would include MDA in every activity which is open to any other National Society. We would also invite MDA to bring its human and other resources within our network, just as every other Society can.
This meant that from that time on, MDA would be within our network as a normal National Society.
We hoped that what we sometimes called the policy of normalcy would help those who questioned MDA's credentials or intentions to reconsider their opinions.
This idea was very well received, and a new work programme was developed for our office, in consultation with MDA.
The office has many responsibilities, but one of the most important in this period has been providing advice to MDA about the workings of the Movement and the ways in which MDA can fit itself into the wider National Society world.
This is a rather different task from the same function in a newly independent country with a newly established National Society.
MDA is, after all, now moving into the celebration of its 75th anniversary. It is not a National Society in formation, which is the term we have traditionally applied to those preparing to join our Movement. It has its own traditions and customs and its own place in its community.
But MDA's leaders recognised quickly that entry into the Movement was not just a nice looking formality which would rectify an injustice.
It was an opportunity for MDA to realise its humanitarian potential in the widest possible way. It was an opportunity for MDA both to bring its expertise and knowledge to the assistance of vulnerable people around the world and, very importantly, to learn from our Red Cross and Red Crescent network about the experiences of others. All for the benefit of the vulnerable people of Israel.
It was also an opportunity for MDA to bring the Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement to life for all the people of Israel, and to do so proudly under the historic emblem of Israel.
So, on 5 June 2001 the Secretary General of the Federation wrote to MDA's President outlining the way cooperation could be built, and for us in the Federation this date marks the real turning point in our relationship.
The absorption of the Movement's way of working into MDA's systems and culture was never going to be a task which could be accomplished by simply flicking a switch.
We have approached it together by learning from experience and sharing knowledge at every opportunity.
I will give some illustrations:
• MDA has moved into the mainstream of the Federation's coordinated disaster preparedness and disaster relief activity. MDA sent relief teams to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunamis, and did so using the procedures applicable to all Movement members. As part of that, MDA took part in the regular telephone conferences and briefings with National Societies from around the world, to ensure that the assistance provided was the assistance needed, and that it was delivered efficiently and to the people in real need.
• MDA plays an active part in the Federation's work on health and care. MDA's past President, Dr Moshe Melloul, is a member of the Federation's Health Commission.
• MDA has translated the Movement's Fundamental Principles into Hebrew, and has begun posting them in its stations around the country. MDA is keen to develop its capacity to disseminate the Principles and other related material, including international humanitarian law. We are working together on the development of programs to this end, and MDA has incorporated relevant points in its own Statutes.
• MDA recognised that the need to harmonise its system of governance with the Movement's ways was not beneficial only in terms of membership. MDA leaders see that participation in the Federation's programs built around good governance, transparency and accountability is good for its own reputation with its own people.
• The Federation recognised that MDA had developed a culture of its own in 70 years of distance, and that there was a need for accelerated programming to bring MDA into stronger institutional contact with other National Societies. MDA, for its part, recognised that it needed to build resources for a relationship of substance with others, and to learn how to use the Federation's knowledge sharing capacity for its benefit.
• The Federation and MDA have started learning how to utilise the Federation's status as an international organisation within the international community for the benefit of the Society and its members. This means that the Federation, when it speaks externally, protects MDA interests in the same way as and other Society.
There is much more that could be said, but these examples point to the next steps for us.
Everything I have said so far is about the way we have built our togetherness, without the assistance of the Protocol.
I will deal with the Protocol last, but would note now that we are on an irreversible path of linkage, a linkage which has already joined the concerns of the vulnerable people of Israel to those of vulnerable people in all other countries in the world.
The Federation takes the broad view that all the people in the world have the right to access to a recognised National Society for the protection of their vulnerability.
The next steps, now well advanced in Israel, are the modernisation of governance so that the Society's independence from government is assured by its own Statutes.
Once that work is complete, MDA's positions with respect to the ten conditions for recognition and hence entry into the Movement will be ready for consideration by the Movement's Joint Statutes Commission.
Except for one, that relating to the emblem.
The postponement of the governmental diplomatic conference scheduled for October 2000 did not slow the Movement's determination.
The supreme deliberative body of the Movement, the Council of Delegates, adopted resolutions unanimously in 2001 and 2003 endorsing the draft text and calling on all National Societies to lobby their governments in support of its adoption.
The Standing Commission has maintained a working group of its own on the issues, looking for ways to consolidate achievements and support the adoption of the Protocol by governments.
The 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, in December 2003, which includes all governments, adopted for itself the Council of Delegates resolution and thereby brought governments behind this affirmative position.
In response to signs of an improving situation in the Middle East, and with the active support of the Movement, Switzerland initiated consultations in March 2005 to determine whether the time was now right to hold the diplomatic conference.
There are divergent views. The Movement strongly supports the move, and so do most States.
Some, however, consider that the time is not yet ripe. In part this position comes from unfamiliarity with MDA and what it really is. One of our tasks in the International Federation is to help project MDA as a modern National Society committed to the same Fundamental Principles as all others.
And as a National Society committed to the same high standards of humanitarian service working through its volunteers and members as any other.
And, importantly, as being guided like all others by international humanitarian law. Another aspect of that concern derives from unfamiliarity with the Movement functions.
This is not surprising - after all, the Movement functions according to its own rules, and not those set by governments.
The crucial rule in this respect is the one which requires any National Society working outside its own national territory to do so with the consent of the host country National Society, especially with respect to the display of its emblem.
This rule has applied as between National Societies since 1921, and no new rule is envisaged so far as Israel is concerned. But, when linked with the Protocol, its effect for Israel will be that MDA will need to obtain the consent of the host country National Society about emblems if it wishes to bring peacetime humanitarian services to that country.
What will be possible will depend on the legislation of that country, and our expectation is that in most circumstances MDA will be able to work with its emblem incorporated in the emblem which will be established by the Protocol.
That emblem does not yet have a formal name, but is known as the "red crystal", and it looks like a diamond-shaped red frame - a square standing on its edge, with a white centre.
This gives good space for the incorporation of the red shield of David or, for that matter and if the host requires it, the red cross, the red crescent or a combination of those emblems.
The net result of this is that the average Israeli will see the red shield of David in just the same way as he or she sees it now.
What that average person might also see is a Society much more profoundly involved with the other parts of the international Movement and the Federation.
It is also likely that entry into the Movement will provide many more opportunities for beneficial contact and relationship with the National Societies of neighbouring countries, which will be a bonus for all.
The other net result, more noticeable by the international MDA community, is that the red shield of David will become synonymous not only with Israel's heritage but with the Fundamental Principles of the Movement and international humanitarian law.
This is a point which I hope all the members of IMDAC, and indeed all other organisations which respect the red shield of David will take on board.
It will be very important for the future operations of Magen David Adom in Israel that all other MDA groups do their utmost to ensure that the emblem is elevated to a position above all forms of political debate, and placed in the context of the Fundamental Principles.
Another consequence of the entry of MDA into the Movement is the need for the National Society and its supporters to consider the best way of building a sound bilateral relationship in each countries where a Friends group or other related body is established.
This is important for many other communities as well, for diasporas are a normal and regular feature of life in nearly every country now.
The Federation and the ICRC will need to support the dialogue which you will all want to generate, but our role is to support, rather than to lead.
It is our hope that you will all go from this meeting inspired by the likelihood that the Society's 75th Anniversary year will be marked by entry into the Movement, and that a new page in history will be turned.
Footnote: The Third Protocol was adopted by governments at a diplomatic conference on 8 December 2005; the Statutes of the Movement were amended by the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent on 22 June 2006, and both Magen David Adom in Israel and the Palestine Red Crescent Society were admitted to membership of the Federation on 22 June 2006.