Three years of Intifada boost PRCS and MDA response capabilities

Published: 3 October 2003 0:00 CET

If there is a silver lining to the dark clouds of violence, mistrust and suffering that hang over the Middle East as the Intifada enters its fourth year, it is that the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the Israeli national society, Magen David Adom (MDA) have become leaders in the field of delivering assistance to those in need.

As the needs of the Palestinian and Israeli population have escalated, so the two National Societies have reinforced their response capacities.

“We expanded our team in order to provide first aid services and treat wounded everywhere, whatever their religion, Muslim, Christians or Jew,” says Avi Zohar, Secretary General of the MDA.

“After what we and the PRCS have gone through, the MDA and PRCS have become among the best emergencies experts in the region,” he notes.

In the past three years, 2,483 Palestinians have been killed in the autonomous and occupied territories and 23,646 injured. In Israel, 765 lives have been lost and 5,270 people wounded.

“The suffering cannot be measured only by counting the number of dead and injured, but by counting the millions of people living in a difficult humanitarian situation,” explains Younis Al-Khatib, President of PRCS.

“Because of the continuing Israeli army siege and closure we had to expand our teams to reach the most vulnerable anywhere. Because of the 396 Israeli army checkpoints and barriers restricting movement, we have difficulties accessing the sick and wounded. The Gaza Strip continues to be considered a closed military area’ said Al-Khatib.

The PRCS has expanded its emergency medical services (EMS) and Primary Health Care centres. They also established a system of mobile teams who sometimes have to travel by foot to rural areas to assist isolated people.

The two organisations have increased their ambulance services as the hostilities intensified. “At the beginning, we needed more ambulances,” says Zohar, “Now we have 700 ambulances, some of which work every day and others that are on standby, ready to respond to an emergency.”

The MDA, which also runs Israel’s main blood centre, can call on a total of 7,000 volunteers and 1,400 staff.

The number of PRCS ambulances has also doubled. “One hundred ambulances are functioning every day. This service has allowed the 5,000 active volunteers to care for over 250,000 medical cases over the past three years, of which 24,000 were conflict-related injuries,” explained Al-Khatib.

Since the Intifada began, seven members of the PRCS have been killed as they carried out their duties. Some 192 members of its emergency medical teams have been injured. The PRCS has documented that “300 attacks have happened on its emergency teams”, while “100 ambulances have been damaged more than once”.

The closure of roads has left many Palestinians without medical care. To respond to the needs of these isolated patients, the PRCS established a hotline, where professional medical volunteers could give medical advice over the phone. So far, Al-Khatib says, 60,000 people in need have benefited from this service.

“Many babies were delivered over the phone because checkpoints did not allow pregnant women to go to hospital. Forty-two women and newborn babies died because of complications during labour,” he adds.

The hotline is a good example of how MDA and PRCS collaborate. Many times, MDA emergency teams were called by the PRCS to pick up an injured Israeli assisted by them.

The Israeli national society does the same when they assist a Palestinian. “Sometimes we are transferring injured patients from the Palestinian territories to Israeli hospitals, or to transfer them from a Palestinian area to another’ said Zohar. ‘Our neighbours, the PRCS carry the same mandate too, and if there is an Israeli casualty, they come for help’.

As an example, Zohar remembers that “at the beginning of the Intifada, one MDA ambulance carrying three medical staff was hit by a fire bomb in a Palestinian area but a PRCS ambulance was following and saved our team.”

This was not an isolated incident. On many occasions, Palestinians were assisted by Israeli volunteers and vice-versa. Both national societies abide by the values of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, which have Impartiality as a fundamental principal.

Zohar admires the “professionalism of the PRCS. They are doing a marvellous job in saving lives and helping vulnerable. We stand ready to assist them when ever they need us’.

Al-Khatib reciprocates: “We respect the MDA’s work in the context of saving lives and its humanitarian endeavours. But we ask the MDA to distance itself from the military and to press for the application of International Humanitarian Law in the Palestinian territories."

Related links:

Activities in the Palestinian Territories
Magen David Adom
Palestine Red Crescent Society