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Israel joins Red Cross after long deliberations

The international conference of the Red Cross approved Israel’s Magen David Adom society and the Palestine Red Crescent for membership in the group.
General view of the opening session of the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva
General view of the opening session of the 29th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva. The conference aims at the adoption of the "red crystal" emblem, and the admission of the Israeli Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. Denis Balibouse / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Red Cross admitted Israel to the worldwide humanitarian organization early Thursday, ending decades of exclusion linked to the Jewish state’s refusal to accept the traditional cross symbol.

The approval came in the early hours Thursday following a two-day International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

With a round of applause the Red Cross federation admitted Israel’s Magen David Adom society simultaneously with the Palestine Red Crescent. An optional new emblem was adopted so that Israel could retain its red star of David instead of having to adopt the red cross or crescent used by the 184 other societies in the global movement.

“This has been going on for 58 long years. It’s time. It’s overdue,” said Bonnie McElveen Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, which had been campaigning for years for the Israeli society’s admission.

Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had earlier rejected a Muslim amendment that would have challenged Israel’s occupation of Arab territory since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The vote was 72 votes for the amendment and 191 against, he said.

Then the conference passed by a 237-54 vote a resolution setting up the legal basis for Israelis’ admission and making an exception to the rule that societies have to be under a sovereign state so that the Palestinians could join as well.

Magen David Adom has sought membership in the Red Cross movement since the 1930s — even before Israel became a state — but has been barred from entry because it objects to using the traditional symbols of the movement to identify its medical and humanitarian workers.

‘Red crystal’
The decision early Thursday completed a complicated process that included the creation of the optional, third emblem — a blank, red-bordered square standing on one corner — that could stand alone or frame the Israeli society’s red star.

The emblem — dubbed the “red crystal” — was approved over Muslim objections in a hard-fought diplomatic conference last December. But that was only the first step, and the conference was called to complete the job.

Conference organizers said their aim was to make the movement universal.

The simple red cross on a white background — the reversal of colors of the Swiss flag — was adopted as the emblem of the movement when it was founded in 1863 by Swiss humanitarians trying to care for battlefield casualties who otherwise were left to suffer.

But the symbol unintentionally reminded Muslims of the Christian Crusaders, and they insisted on their own red crescent in the 19th century.

When Israel’s society bid for membership was turned down in 1949, it objected to using either the cross or the crescent, and the Red Cross movement refused to admit yet another emblem.

The society and its friends have been campaigning for years to find a way out of the stalemate, and the new emblem was designed primarily to meet Israel’s objections. Magen David Adom can combine it with the red star to create a new logo.

Israel’s military will be able to use the crystal by itself on a white flag to protect medics and other humanitarian workers helping war casualties. But any society could combine the emblem with the cross or crescent — or both — for temporary use.