By Daniel Burger, Chief Executive, Magen David Adom UK
I recently returned from a hastily arranged three-day visit to see our Magen David Adom partners on the frontline. MDA is often seen as just an ambulance service. It is important to understand how understated this perception is.
Our tour started immediately as we boarded the bus to Ashdod. Here we met our guard Sergei – an MDA volunteer medic and reserve medic in the army. The only reason he wasn’t in Gaza was because a rocket landed near him and temporarily deafened him. But rather than spend his sick leave with his loved ones, he was with us.
We discovered that the projected fatality rate without the Iron Dome would run into hundreds, with many more casualties. Of the 2,331 rockets fired into Israel as 29 July, 439 had been intercepted. The reason this number is so low is that the Iron Dome is programmed to only intercept those where the rocket’s trajectory is calculated to land in a built-up area.
We were issued with protective vests and helmets and given a security briefing on what to do if a siren goes off. We stopped at Sderot and Yad Mordachi and were able to see a few hundred metres into the foreground where dust from the tanks heading into Gaza stirred up a sand storm.
We also saw rockets launched from Gaza being intercepted by the Iron Dome, protecting Kibbutz Erez nearby. This is the reality of life in Israel. For the first time, I understood what it’s like to be in the line of fire.
Protocol dictates that if a siren sounds while driving, the vehicle must be stopped and passengers should get out and lie by the side of the road. But what do you do with a critically-ill patient who won’t survive the delay? Do you follow protocol or continue treatment? MDA ambulances carry a third set of protective helmets and vests for this very reason. These are put on the patient so treatment can continue.
This is how our teams risk their lives day in day out. Next morning we met with MK Haim Katz, chair of the health and welfare committee and some of its members at the MDA Ashdod station. Eli Bin, Chief Executive of MDA in Israel, summarised for the committee why our delegation was here and emphasised to those present that MDA was ready for Operation Protective Edge only because of the £18million it receives from the diaspora.
We then visited Netivot, a town who’s population is suffering with the psychological effects of constant bombardment from rockets, and followed this with a visit to an informal IDF camp at Ofakim. Set up by Doron, an ex-Golani soldier, the camp offers an oasis providing everything from good coffee, meals and clothing provisions to massage and barber’s services for troops.
Upon arriving in Jerusalem, we visited the shiva house of Barkai Shor, 21, who was killed in action on 27 July. No parent should ever have to bury a child and, as I expected, the mother was totally overcome with grief. The father, however, remained calm and spoke with passion about how MDA had been an enormous part of Barkai’s life.
The next day, we went to see the land in Ramla which will be home to MDA’s new underground bloodbank – hopefully within the next few years. From there we went to Tel Ha’shomer where the blood services are currently run – and realised immediately why they are desperate to move.
MDA is responsible for 98 percent of Israel’s blood supply. During times of escalation, when demand increases massively, it operates from a labyrinth of underground shelters, corridors and storage rooms.
These are, frankly, not fit for purpose. It is important that we bring this project to fruition. MDA teams also provide medical transportation for sick and injured Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Israeli hospitals and hospitals overseas.
Last week, in full co-operation between the Israeli government, the Turkish Red Crescent and Palestinian Authority, MDA transferred 18 Palestinians from the Erez Crossing to Ben Gurion Airport – preparing them for travel to Ankara.
Activities such as these highlight how MDA is a truly international humanitarian entity. My trip was anything but typical. Now, more than ever, I appreciate what makes MDA unique and why it needs your support. It’s not just an ordinary ambulance service. In circumstances such as these, you realise why.