“We should focus on establishing regional disaster response teams,” Dr. Mohammed Al-Hadid, the past chairman of the Standing Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, said Sunday at an event sponsored by The Mideast Press Club and the American Colony Hotel.
Al-Hadid, who is also the president of the Jordanian Red Crescent Society (JRC), spoke at a panel before a gathering of Israeli and Palestinian journalists - some arriving from the Gaza Strip -- as members of the Mideast Press Club.
“It’s imperative that we look at the whole picture,” said Felice Friedson, president of The Media Line and founder of The Mideast Press Club. “We come together as professionals in the media to learn about all sides of the story -- both the good and the bad -- so that we can better understand each other.”
Al-Hadid, who has chaired the highest body of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and largest humanitarian network in the world, said cooperation in catastrophes needs to transcend politics.
“Sometimes humanitarian work is hindered by the political atmosphere,” Al-Hadid said. “This is the reality that we cannot ignore… As a neighbor, I would like to see both the Israelis and the Palestinians working together to make sure that the dignity and welfare of mankind is well preserved.”
Dr. Qasem Maani, director of the International Cooperation Unit of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, said on-going communication with Israeli authorities was steadily improving health care access but more coordination was needed, particularly regarding times of crises.
“We Palestinians are the ones who suffer the most by (the mixing of) health and politics,” Maani said. “When we want to talk about health issues, let us separate health and politics. There is a need from the Israeli side to …strengthen our health system.”
Maani said the PA Health Ministry has had to “face continuous and rapid changes in Palestinian society, demography, illness, priorities and resources. We must reply quickly to these changes. But we have to add to this that we Palestinians are under occupation, and have to think how to develop our health system, improve services and build our infrastructure under these circumstances.”
'Disasters simply hit people.' Red Crescent ambulances (Photo: Yaron Ilan)
One of the major topics discussed was the problem of relaying patients through border crossings, Israeli army roadblocks and on to Jerusalem hospitals.
Yonatan Yagodovsky, director of the international department of Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA), said that despite security problems, many obstacles have been removed and direct communications with the Palestinians through dispatch centers was helping.
For now, most Palestinians ambulances are barred from entering Israel and critically ill patients have to wait to be transferred to Israeli ambulances in order to receive advanced treatment in Israeli hospitals. He said some 20,000 transfers were made last year.
He added that the MDA has also provided training and seminars for Palestinian paramedics and other medical personnel in Israel. Yagodovsky said MDA was proud to share its experience with other organizations around the world.
“We know we have improved in terms of readiness and preparedness for natural disasters,” he said. “We are trying very hard to work together with our neighbors, the Palestinian and Jordanian Red Crescents, on various levels… to build up a format of mutual assistance in case a major emergency hits the area, like an earthquake.”
“Natural disasters don’t recognize borders or religious beliefs,” Yagodovsky said. “They simply hit people.”
“At the same time that we share knowledge with others, we also try to learn from the experience of others,” he continued, adding that Israelis are anxious to learn from the Jordanian experience in extending emergency medical assistance to ‘less developed communities.’”
'Red Crescent does not visit anybody'
Al-Hadid said that Jordan is helping to facilitate cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following the signing of a memorandum of understanding in November 2005 to be full-fledged members of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
The region is situated on the volatile Afro-Syrian rift and in February, Jordan is hosting a major conference on earthquake rescue and emergency medical response. Representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, the United States, Norway and other countries will be attending, Al-Hadid announced.
“My hope as an official of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent is to see these two national societies, both the Israelis and the Palestinians, work more closely,” Al-Hadid said. “Because when they work together it means they save more lives.”
He also revealed that for the first time 15 Jordanians are studying for their bachelor's degrees as paramedics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Beersheba.
“They could have gone to Australia or the US for this,” he said. “But a high-level curriculum was found much closer to home.”
Moderator Michael Friedson, the executive editor of The Media Line, asked how the Jordanian Red Cross could help format the ‘triage’, or order of treatment between the Israelis and Palestinians who are often in a stage of conflict.
“Focus on humanitarian relations,” Al-Hadid responded. “They have a lot of impact on peace in the Middle East. A constant dialogue between Israel, Jordan and Palestine is important…We cannot wait for the politicians.”
“There are good people and some bad ones,” he added. “But you must not let the bad minority in every religion or country make us hostages to what they believe in.”
“We used to (wonder) what Jews and Israelis looked like, as if they came from outer space,” Al-Hadid said. “Now, with satellites and the Internet, we cannot hide the fact that we are all the same and we should make the world a better place.”
Asked why his organization has not managed to visit captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held for three years by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Al-Hadid said that only the Swiss ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) visits prisoners of war and detainees.
“The Red Crescent does not visit anybody, neither does the Red Cross,” he stressed. “It is the ICRC. I would have hoped to have been able to visit (Shalit) if we got the request but it is not up to me. … In this case unfortunately we have not been able to do anything.”
Hamas has repeatedly denied requests from the ICRC to visit Shalit, who was captured in June 2006.
The Mideast Press Club is an initiative of The Media Line, an American news agency specializing in coverage of the Middle East. Since 2005, The Mideast Press Club has worked to advance professional and interpersonal relationships between Israeli and Palestinian journalists through programs, master classes and incentives for the study of journalism and the enhancement of coverage of the Middle East
Article reprinted by permission from The Media Line