Ms. Antonella Notari, the International Red Cross spokesperson in Geneva, responds to questions by HopeWays' Editor:
Q: The International Red Cross has recognised three protective emblems: the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Lion (not in use). International law and the Geneva Conventions protect medical facilities and personnel marked with these emblems. Attacks against marked installations or persons are regarded as crimes against international humanitarian law. Although religious / national symbols, other than the Cross, have been recognised as official protective emblems, the Jewish / Israeli symbol - the Red Star of David (Magen David Adom) - has been consistently refused recognition. What is the reason for this policy?
A: The ICRC is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israeli. The ICRC is wholeheartedly supportive of MDA's full inclusion in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement (it currently enjoys observer status). It is not the ICRC that prevents MDA's full inclusion, but rather the statutes adopted by the International Conference, which represents all State Parties to the Geneva Conventions. International law only recognizes three emblems, which Israel and the MDA understandably do not wish to use. The ICRC and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have been seeking a change in this situation since the mid-1990s.
The proposed solution involves the adoption of an additional emblem, which could be used by any country that does not wish to use either the red cross or the red crescent. It will have the same status as the existing emblems recognized by the Geneva Conventions. It has been designed to be completely free of any perception of national, religious, political or ethnic connotations and as a result could be used in many situations around the world where respect for the neutrality of the existing emblems may be in doubt.
The adoption of an additional emblem requires a change in international law, for no emblem can be recognized as giving protection in time of conflict unless it has been approved by governments in a treaty document. Consultations are proceeding with a view to holding a diplomatic conference, but were postponed when the outbreak of violence in the Middle East. Both the ICRC and the International Federation remain strongly committed to that solution.
On 9 June 2003, the MDA and the ICRC signed their first ever cooperation agreement. The ICRC is currently cooperating with MDA in the following areas: medical care (blood bank, paramedics), disaster preparedness and response, restoring family links, dissemination of international humanitarian law and international contacts with other national societies. In December 2003, and 4 February 2004, further meetings were held between MDA and ICRC officials. Both MDA's leadership and the Israeli authorities consider these events and developments as positive. The ICRC will continue this cooperation while making every effort to assist MDA's integration in the Movement, in preparation for its full inclusion.
Q: Does the ICRC regard those who carry deliberate attacks against Jewish ambulances, hospitals and other medical facilities, as war criminals?
A: The ICRC does not dispute Israel's legitimate right to defend itself, particularly against heinous attacks directed at civilians. There is no excuse or justification for attacks directed at civilians, wherever and whenever they occur. Indeed, a 18 February press release states:
"The ICRC has repeatedly condemned deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians and stressed that all acts intended to spread terror among the civilian population are in clear violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). It recognizes Israel's right to take measures to ensure the security of its population. However, these measures must respect the relevant rules of IHL."
A public statement by the President of the ICRC, Dr. Jakob Kellenberger, on 3 December 2003, perfectly illustrates the ICRC's position on the matter:
"I am convinced that it is possible to ensure the security of a State without violating the basic norms of humanitarian law, that one can control a territory while respecting its population and that one can detain people who threaten public order while respecting their physical and spiritual integrity and without undermining their dignity. We, no doubt, all agree. We no doubt also agree that terrorist acts are the very negation of fundamental humanitarian principles and we are unanimous in condemning the massacre of civilians by such criminal acts. I am sure we also agree we must avoid being drawn involuntarily or through excessive measures of repression into the dynamic of disregarding the law, humanitarian law in particular".
Attacks on civilians and wounded combattants is a breach of the conventions regardless of whether an emblem is used or not. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society is also not a recognized society but for different reasons to the MDA. Both are observers and work with other components of the Red Cross, and with each other.
For more information - see the ICRC's web site.
Antonella Notari, ICRC Spokesperson, 18/March/2004
Good will is evident in the above comments, but do they answer the simple question: Why not recognise - even under the proposed "solution" - the Jewish / Israeli symbol as a protective emblem, equal to those of Muslims and Christians?