Israel: Magen David Adom ambulance crews bring critical life-saving care despite the dangers
As sirens blare over the surrounding neighbourhood — alerting people about incoming rockets — a paramedic with the Magen David Adom (MDA) lies flat on the ground, shielding herself in case a missile should land nearby.
“This is what we have to do when sirens go off and we're not in a building,” says Dani, a paramedic with an MDA ambulance team. “We just have to lie on the ground and cover our heads.”
“I'm grateful that while I'm on shift I have a helmet and a vest to protect me but it's still terrifying,” she says. “It's so much scarier than I could have imagined. Despite this fear, I'm not going to let anything stop me or the MDA teams from getting to people in need.”
Since the escalation of hostilities on October 7, numerous MDA staff members, including several ambulance team members, have been killed in the line of duty — and many more have been injured. In addition, the MDA has also incurred losses of medical equipment, including numerous ambulances, ruined due to incoming fire.
The sound of sirens, flying rockets and nearby explosions are something many MDA paramedics know all too well. And they are well aware of the dangers they represent.
‘The helicopter started spinning’
A paramedic who works with a MDA helicopter unit, Shafir Botner recalls a harrowing moment during that already horrific day when his crew narrowly escaped death. It happened while they were transporting three critically wounded people from a place where fighting was still going on.
“We were told there were three critically wounded people on the ground and that we must take them or they wouldn’t survive,” he recalls.
The crew landed, worked quickly to stabilize the patients, brought the wounded on board and were preparing to take off when suddenly there was a loud explosion.
“Rockets kept flying overhead,” he said. “Within ten seconds I heard a massive explosion. I was sure we were hit by a rocket. And in a split second the helicopter started spinning in all directions. I was able to hold on and scream into the radio that we were hit.”
“Later I found out that debris had hit our rotors and the helicopter lost its balance. If not for our incredible pilots, I wouldn’t be here today.”
The sound of falling rockets
The continuing threat of rocket fire and other potential attacks take a heavy emotional toll on paramedic teams as well. After all, they’ve seen many times what the weapons of war can do. Talal Abu Jameh, a senior emergency medical technician at the MDA, recalls an episode on the first day of the war that has left an indelible mark on his heart and mind.
"I was standing at the [MDA] station, when I suddenly heard a very loud boom and saw black smoke,” says Talal, who is Muslim and lives with his family in a Bedwin community in the Negev.
“I drove there quickly and on the way my son called me,” he recalls. “I heard a lot of shouting in the background, I heard him say "he's dead, he's dead". I got there and proceeded on foot. The family was there. I saw my cousin, only four years old, lying unconscious on the floor.
“It was clear to me that he was very seriously injured, I evacuated him in an ambulance to the hospital, where unfortunately he was pronounced dead. Then I realized there was no choice and even though everyone in my family was traumatized by the incident, I knew I had to be part of the team. And so I went back to work.”
‘They’ve given their all’
MDA has been supporting affected communities since the beginning, with ambulance and medical services on call 24/7. A total of 1,500 ambulances and 10,000 first responders (EMTs and paramedics) have been mobilized. Since 7 October, they have treated over 4.000 patients.
“The volunteers and staff of Magen David Adom have been given it their all in the past weeks. Despite the many dangers, they did everything in their power to save lives, “ says Birgitte Bischoff Ebbesen, regional director at IFRC for Europe and Central Asia.
“This despite the fact that the conflict has affected many MDA-members personally. They have lost friends, family members and coworkers due to the violence, and their stories are heartbreaking.
Regardless of their own sorrows and hardship, many MDA-members have found space in their hearts to continue helping others. This is truly remarkable and inspiring.”
Israel / Palestine conflict: our response so far
As the escalation of hostilities in Israel and Palestine enters its second month, the conflict continues to take the lives of civilians, disrupt the delivery of life-saving medical care, interrupt critical services that people rely on to survive, and leave families grieving the loss of loved ones.
The IFRC has called on all parties for humanitarian access across Gaza and West Bank, the release of hostages, the protection of civilians, hospitals and humanitarian workers from indiscriminate attack and compliance with international humanitarian law.
Among those killed have been humanitarian aid and health workers who lost their lives while trying to save others, as well as people seeking safety and care at health facilities.
IFRC and National Society response
Meanwhile, IFRC member National Societies in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories continue to respond to urgent humanitarian needs and to provide life-saving assistance and other essential services. The IFRC, meanwhile, is supporting its National Societies Magen David Adom in Israel and the Palestinian Red Crescent in their on-going, live-saving work.
Magen David Adom in Israel (MDA) has been supporting affected communities since the beginning, with ambulance and medical services on call 24/7. Staff and volunteers have been working tirelessly, putting their lives and well-being in harm's way to tend to the wounded and deceased. A total of 1,500 ambulances and 10,000 first responders (EMTs and paramedics) have been mobilized. Since 7 October, they have treated over 4.000 patients.
These staff members and volunteers have been working under difficult and dangerous circumstances. Tragically, several volunteers and staff have died in line of duty, killed while treating patients. Several others also suffered major or minor injuries while on duty. Ambulances have also come under attack at various times during the hostilities.
The MDA has also supported the Ministry of Health in the transfer of patients and the evacuation of bed-ridden people close to the border. MDA is also helping communities prepare in case of further escalation. For example, the National Society offers free, first-aid training focusing on trauma care. It has also gathered, tested and processed over 50,000 units of blood to supply ambulances, mobile intensive care units, hospitals and clinics.
As the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has deteriorated – with little humanitarian aid reaching impacted communities – Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCRS) teams are working around the clock in extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances. Already, several PRCS volunteers have been killed in the escalating violence. Meanwhile, there are drastic shortages of critical basic necessities, such as fuel, water, food and medical supplies.
Despite the challenges, PRCS has continued to provide critical, life-saving care. In the Gaza Strip, the PRCS has provided emergency medical care to more than 8,800 injured people as of 4 November. PRCS ambulance crews have also transported more than 2,800 people killed since the escalation began.
PRCS’s Al-Quds hospital in Gaza city has cared for 1,061 injured people and taken in long-term patients from the main hospital. The National Society’s Al Amal hospital in Khan Younis has cared for 873 injured people as of 4 November and has also taken in long-term patients from the main government-run hospital.
This life-saving work is being done in the face of regular power and communications blackouts as well as the extreme danger posed by the on-going conflict. PRCS teams have reported shelling very close to their hospitals, ambulance center, main warehouse, and headquarters causing injuries, damaging the buildings and restricting access to the hospitals. Eight ambulances are inoperable due to severe damage, according to PRCS. Al Quds hospital, meanwhile, has continued operation despite demands that it be evacuated.
Meanwhile, PRCS staff have distributed relief items to more than 60,000 internally displaced families in temporary shelters and at their hospitals. Aid items include food parcels, milk, blankets, mattresses, water as well as some hygiene kits, kitchen sets, and baby necessities.
In the West Bank, PRCS has provided emergency medical care to more than 2,300 injured people. Ambulance crews have also transported 49 people killed in the fighting.
Aid delivery to Gaza so far
On 21 October, the first 20 humanitarian aid trucks were allowed to cross the border from Egypt into the Gaza strip. The Rafah border crossing — a key lifeline for essential goods into the Gaza strip — had been closed since the escalation of violence on 7 October.
Since the border was re-opened, 756 trucks carrying food, water, relief items, medicine and medical supplies have been allowed in as of 9 November – an average of 33 trucks per day. The aid that has been received is only a drop in the ocean considering the immense needs of Gaza’s two million people. So far no fuel has been allowed to enter the Gaza strip. The aid deliveries were coordinated by the Egyptian Red Crescent (ERC) the only relief organization with access to North Sinai, including the Rafah border crossing.
New humanitarian flights
On 7 November, two new European Union Humanitarian Air Bridge flights for the people of Gaza took off from Ostend, Belgium and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, transporting almost 115 tonnes of assistance supplies to al-Arish, Egypt, near the Rafah Border Crossing Point.
The flights were organised through a coordination platform managed by the EU and the IFRC. The cargo from Dubai carried logistical items such as refrigerators and containers, a crucial element for the treatment of aid arriving in Egypt and Gaza. These items were purchased by the EU and donated to the World Food Programme in order to strengthen the logistical capacity of the Egyptian Red Crescent and to facilitate relief operations in the region.
Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt
In view of the scale of likely needs and in order to complement the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS)’s response efforts outlined in their appeal, the IFRC will enhance the capacities to respond through an Emergency Appeal by coordinating the response in neighbouring countries to the occupied Palestine Territories.
The IFRC will be supporting – in close coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - the response of its membership, as significant humanitarian actors in their own geographies, and strengthen their organizational capacities. Through this Emergency Appeal, the IFRC and its membership seek CHF 30 million (CHF 20 million of which is expected to be raised by the IFRC Secretariat) to support the Lebanese Red Cross, Egyptian Red Crescent, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and Jordanian Red Crescent in preparing and strengthening their response readiness to the potential escalation of hostilities in the region and subsequent humanitarian needs.
On 13, October, the IFRC also allocated CHF 1 million from its Disaster Emergency Relief Fund to support a wide range of humanitarian assistance in the occupied Palestinian territories impacted by the hostilities.
The highest price
Since the escalation of hostilities began on 7 October, the IFRC has decried the fact that civilians are paying the “highest price” in the hostilities and has called on all parties to allow humanitarian organizations to safely access and support people impacted by the crisis.
In a joint statement on 14 October, IFRC Secretary General Jagan Chapagain and ICRC Director General Robert Mardini said they were “appalled to see the human misery that has unfolded” and that “civilians - including women and children, the elderly, and the wounded and sick - are currently paying the highest price.”
“Human suffering is happening on all sides,” the statement said. “And it is always devastating. The death of a son or daughter, a sibling, a parent, is a human tragedy no matter where it happens or who it happens to. Civilian life must be protected on all sides.”
“We call on all parties to exercise restraint, to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to protect civilians – which must remain at the core of everything we do,” they wrote, stressing the critical need for all parties to respect and facilitate impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance to all those impacted by the violence.
The IFRC governing board, which includes National Society leaders from all parts of the globe, also expressed its shock and horror at the “growing humanitarian needs and the mounting loss of life” in a special statement released on 20 October.
“This situation underscores the critical importance of access to all civilians, including those held hostage,” the statement continued. “We urge all parties involved to prioritize the safety and well-being of civilians and to commit to ensuring rapid, safe, and unimpeded access, including the opening of the Rafah border crossing, for humanitarian organizations to provide essential humanitarian assistance and ensure protection.”
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@elsharkawi - IFRC MENA Regional Director, Hossam Elsharkawi
Statement by the members of the governing board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
We, the members of the Governing Board of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), convey our deep concern about the humanitarian situation that has arisen as a result of the dramatic escalation of hostilities in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories. This crisis has resulted in a tragic number of casualties, including the distressing number of deaths and injuries at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, and has led to immense suffering and devastation for all civilians. We are compelled by our moral duty to speak out on their behalf.
We are deeply shocked and horrified by the growing humanitarian needs and the mounting loss of life. This situation underscores the critical importance of access to all civilians, including those held hostage. We urge all parties involved to prioritize the safety and well-being of civilians and to commit to ensuring rapid, safe, and unimpeded access, including the opening of the Rafah border crossing, for humanitarian organizations to provide essential humanitarian assistance and ensure protection.
We strongly emphasize the humanitarian imperative for the protection of all civilians. We call for the protection of essential institutions, hospitals and schools as well as critical infrastructure and vehicles, such as water and electrical networks and ambulances, which must remain free from harm, to ensure the well-being, safety and transportation of people. These institutions also serve as cornerstones of hope and stability in times of crisis. Civilians, health facilities and civilian infrastructure must be respected and protected at all times under international humanitarian law.
Furthermore, we call for ensuring the safety and protection of humanitarian workers, with special recognition of the volunteers and staff of the Palestine Red Crescent Society and Magen David Adom in Israel. Their commitment to providing essential assistance and medical care to people who are affected by this crisis is invaluable; their resilience is exceptional. They must be protected and granted safe and unhindered access to carry out lifesaving work without fear of harm. Their unwavering dedication embodies the spirit of humanity and compassion inherent in our Red Cross and Red Crescent family.
We are deeply saddened for the tragic loss of three volunteers and staff of Magen David Adom in Israel, as well as four volunteers from the Palestine Red Crescent Society. Their willingness to reach challenging and often dangerous locations to help those in need exemplifies the highest ideals of humanity. Their legacy will serve as a lasting source of inspiration for us all.
As board members of the IFRC, we stand united in our call for urgent action to address the humanitarian crisis that is dramatically unfolding in front of our eyes. We are hopeful that through concerted efforts, a lasting political solution can be found to alleviate the suffering of people in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories and promote a path towards peace.
The need for lasting peace and stability has never been greater.
| Press release
Joint Statement from Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of the IFRC and Robert Mardini, Director General of the ICRC, on the escalation of hostilities in Israel and Gaza.
Geneva,14 October 2023 – The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movementis appalled to see the human misery that has unfolded over the last week in Israel and Gaza. Civilians - including women and children, the elderly, and the wounded and sick - are currently paying the highest price.
Nothing can justify the horrific loss of civilian lives in Israel last weekend. Our hearts go out to people who lost family members or are anxiously awaiting news about their missing loved ones, which they should receive without delay.But such tragedy cannot in turn justify the limitless destruction of Gaza.
We are deeply alarmed by the call for relocation in Gaza. Our volunteers refuse to leave and abandon those who need them most. They must be protected so that they can protect others.
Human suffering is happening on all sides. And it is always devastating. The death of a son or daughter, a sibling, a parent, is a human tragedy no matter where it happens or who it happens to. Civilian life must be protected on all sides.
In international humanitarian law – the law of armed conflict – there is no hierarchy in pain and suffering. These rules exist to help preserve humanity in the darkest moments, and they desperately need to be followed today. They are and should remain our compass to ensure that we put humanity first.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society and The Magen David Adom in Israel have been working around the clock to provide critical assistance, including ambulance and health services, to those affected. Their staff and volunteers are risking their lives every day to save others. Just this week, we have lost colleagues from both National Societies, who were killed in the line of duty, carrying out life-saving humanitarian work. This is a tragic reminder of the dangers humanitarian and medical workers face and we offer our deepest condolences to their families, friends and colleagues. We reiterate our call that humanitarian workers must be protected.
The Movement is committed to continuing to provide protection and life-saving relief to the people suffering the horrors of the ongoing violence. To do so, our teams need to be able to operate safely. Humanitarian organizations must be given the access to do their work to alleviate the growing human suffering.
The needs are staggering and will only continue to increase if the hostilities persist. We call on all parties to exercise restraint, to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, and to protect civilians – which must remain at the core of everything we do.
Совместное заявление Джагана Чапагайна, генерального секретаря Международной Федерации обществ Красного Креста и Красного Полумесяца, и Роберта Мардини, генерального директора Международного Комитета Красного Креста, в связи с эскалацией военных действий в Израиле и секторе Газа.
14 октября 2023 г.
Женева – Международное движение Красного Креста и Красного Полумесяца потрясено человеческими страданиями, захлестнувшими в прошедшую неделю Израиль и сектор Газа. Самую высокую цену сейчас платит гражданское население — в том числе женщины и дети, старики, раненые и больные.
Ничто не может оправдать чудовищные потери среди мирных жителей в Израиле в прошлые выходные. Мы от всей души сочувствуем тем, кто потерял родных или с тревогой ждет известий о пропавших без вести близких — известий, которые они должны получить без промедления. Однако эта трагедия не может в свою очередь служить оправданием безоглядному разрушению Газы.
Мы глубоко обеспокоены призывом к перемещению населения Газы. Наши добровольцы отказываются уезжать и бросать тех, кто больше всего в них нуждается. Им нужна защита, чтобы они могли защищать других.
Люди страдают одинаково, к какой бы стороне они ни принадлежали. Их горе всегда мучительно. Смерть сына или дочери, брата или сестры, отца или матери — всегда трагедия, где бы и с кем бы она ни происходила. Защитой должна пользоваться жизнь гражданских лиц всех сторон.
В международном гуманитарном праве — праве вооруженных конфликтов — не существует иерархии боли и страданий. Эти нормы созданы, чтобы помочь людям сохранять человечность в самые мрачные времена, и сегодня их крайне необходимо соблюдать. Мы должны сейчас и впредь руководствоваться ими, чтобы гуманность всегда оставалась на первом месте.
Палестинское общество Красного Полумесяца и израильское общество «Маген Давид Адом», включая их службы скорой помощи, работают сутками напролет, оказывая пострадавшим незаменимую помощь, медицинскую и иную. Их сотрудники и добровольцы каждый день рискуют жизнью для спасения других. На одной только этой неделе мы потеряли коллег из обоих национальных обществ — они были убиты при исполнении своих обязанностей, в ходе гуманитарной работы по спасению людей. Это трагическое напоминание об опасностях, которым подвергаются гуманитарные и медицинские работники, и мы приносим глубочайшие соболезнования их семьям, друзьям и коллегам. Мы вновь повторяем свой призыв защищать гуманитарных работников.
Движение полно решимости и дальше предоставлять защиту и спасительную помощь людям, переживающим ужасы неослабевающего насилия. Для этого нам нужна возможность действовать в безопасности. Гуманитарным организациям должен быть предоставлен соответствующий доступ, чтобы они могли делать свою работу, облегчая растущие человеческие страдания.
Потребности людей огромны и будут только расти, если военные действия не прекратятся. Мы призываем все стороны проявлять сдержанность, соблюдать свои обязательства по международному гуманитарному праву и защищать гражданских лиц, о которых мы всегда должны заботиться в первую очередь.
Israel - Magen David Adom in Israel