The tragic loss of life since the outbreak of hostilities in Israel and the Autonomous/Occupied Territories, in September 2000, has now reached more than 1,000 deaths - 851 Palestinians and 208 Israelis have been killed to date. Almost a year after signing a cooperation agreement in Geneva at the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the Magen David Adom in Israel (MDA) continue to provide assistance to the wounded despite ongoing attacks on personnel and ambulances.
To meet the needs, both Societies have scaled up their activities over the past months. Since September 2000, the Palestine Red Crescent Society has treated 17,000 wounded people in the West Bank and Gaza. Over the same period, nearly 2,000 wounded have been taken care of by the Magen David Adom.
The PRCS has been under particularly heavy pressure, as many health services offered by the authorities have been reduced or stopped in the Palestinian territories. "The number of staff and volunteers has grown from 1,300 to 2,900", said PRCS spokesman Mohammed Ayyad in Ramallah.
In both the West Bank and Gaza, the Society employs 240 emergency paramedics, operating in 22 mobile field hospitals that are set up at the sites of incidents, as these happen. "Then, the most serious cases are evacuated to nearby hospitals", Ayyad explained.
In the last 14 months, 40 ambulances were added to the existing PRCS fleet, now composed of 91 vehicles. Two thirds of the fleet have been shot at in 159 reported incidents. "Restrictions on movement have been severe, with prolonged waits at military checkpoints imposed on ambulances and medical teams", said Mohammed Ayyad, adding that they are sometimes denied access to sites of clashes.
The Magen David Adom reports that 70 ambulances have been damaged during incidents since September 2000. According to International Coordinator Jacqueline Brown, "the fleet is made of 650 rescue vehicles, including mobile intensive care units (MICUs) where wounded persons are treated as they would be in any hospital emergency service."
MDA employs 1,200 staff members, including doctors and paramedics delivering first aid, pre-hospital, and blood bank services throughout the country. "They are supported by 6,500 volunteers, of whom 500 have joined the Society in the last 14 months", Brown explained.
Both Societies have paid a heavy human toll, with one PRCS fatality, 116 PRCS emergency medical personnel and 6 MDA staff members injured while on duty since September 2000.
Despite difficult conditions, the two National Societies have maintained their humanitarian collaboration, especially in the operational field. According to Jaap Timmer, the International Federation's representative in Israel, "Sometimes, it happens that PRCS teams are the first on the spot and have to assist Israeli victims, or that Palestinians treated in Israeli hospitals have to be brought home or transferred to Palestinian health centres." This is called the "back-to-back service". A "hotline" between the two leaderships has been established to facilitate mutual support, as the PRCS and the MDA continue to provide emergency assistance to all victims, regardless of nationality.
In its global appeal, issued on December 4, the Federation is seeking 6.9 million to help the Palestine Red Crescent Society continue its programmes, especially the delivery of emergency medical services to victims of clashes and primary health care services in the territories, as well as medical assistance for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria.