The founder of Red Cross, Henry Dunant, was a Swiss citizen who had accidentally found himself in Italy at a time when French and Austrian victims from the Battle of Solferino (in 1859) were lying around uncared for. He quickly organised the women of the town to provide medical and transport assistance to the wounded. Dunant himself built temporary hospitals and arranged for decent medical supplies to be brought in. Then he asked captured Austrian doctors to work in those makeshift hospitals.
The answer was a resounding yes! The International Committee of the Red Cross is a humanitarian institution that was formally founded in 1863 in Geneva, organised by Gustave Moynier, a prominent lawyer and president of the city's Society of Public Welfare,. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva holds the original document of that first Geneva Convention, signed by 16 mainly European countries.
Agreements reached at the first Conference, 1863.
Somehow, at that moment in time, all the nations of the world agreed to give the Red Cross authority under international humanitarian law to protect the victims of all wars! I cannot imagine the nations of the world ever agreeing to an organisation with international rights again. We know it was working - delegates of the International Committee visited the prisoners-of-war throughout the 1864-1914 era and, as noted in their reports, got improvements in conditions for captives on both sides.
In order to not force their Islamic citizens to be carried in ambulances with Christian symbols on the side, Ottoman officials in 1876 requested that a red crescent be used to mark their ambulances and that the Christian cross would be removed. Thus the red crescent emblem was first used on Islamic ambulances during the war between the Ottoman Turks and Russia (1877–8). It took a while before the crescent symbol was accepted by the Red Cross Society, but it was formally adopted in 1929, and so far 33 Islamic states have taken it up.
British women driving ambulances in France, World War I.
“National” Red Cross and Red Crescent societies have always concentrated on natural disasters within their own borders. The “International” Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Society, on the other hand, tended to concentrate on situations of warfare across borders. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was founded in 1919 and still coordinates activities between the all the individual national societies. The Federation Secretariat is well located in neutral, central Geneva.
Ambulance and nurses, Palestine, 1940s
Magen David Adom (MDA) was not officially chartered until the vicious riots of 1929 against the Jewish citizens who had no access to professional first aid services. While still under the British Mandate, the organisation was founded in Tel Aviv in June 1930 by nurse Karen Tenenbaum, 7 Israeli doctors, one hut and one ambulance. They added a branch in Haifa (1931) and in Jerusalem (1934), then a nation-wide network of services was slowly introduced for Jews, Muslims and Christians, reaching a total of 600 ambulances.
During World War Two, only two MDA services were recognised by the British Authorities. It wasn’t until after the state was established that the new parliament passed a law, giving MDA the formal title of Israel's National Emergency Service. From July 1950, Magen David Adom provided services in Israel regarding:
1. emergency medical care,
2. disaster care,
3. ambulances and
4. blood bank service.
5. a tracing service, to locate the children and grandchildren of families lost in the Holocaust.
MDA currently funds c1,200 emergency medical technicians, paramedics and emergency physicians. But in Israel (as in other nations?), MDA is mainly staffed by volunteers; 10,000+ of them. Today all volunteers complete a 60-hour course that covers many topics ranging from common medical conditions and trauma situations... to mass casualty events. Those who pass the course are then sent out across the country and work with local volunteers in ambulances.
MDA headquarters and its blood bank are located at the Tel Hashomer hospital, a place I know very well since I lived there back in 1971 and 1972. The organisation operates 95 stations over the country, with a fleet of over 700 ambulances nationwide. Air ambulance service is provided by Israeli Air Force 669 unit with MEDEVAC helicopters.
Carrying wounded civilians in the 1948 war (Life)