How Jordanian Red Cross chief brought Jews and Arabs together to save lives

Dr Mohammed Al-Hadid reveals how he won co-operation over emergency relief


When Jordanian emergency relief worker Dr Mohammed Al-Hadid first suggested that he could welcome Israel and Palestine to the Red Cross at the same time he was met with scepticism.

“People thought, no way, it’s going to divide the movement,” he says now, reflecting on the 2006 conference at which he attempted the feat.

Al-Hadid, now 72, was then at the apex of a successful career in humanitarian work and serving as the chairman of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The crunch meeting came a year after he had convinced Magen David Adom — Israel’s national medical emergency, disaster, ambulance and blood service — and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society to meet for the first time under his auspices.

Reflecting on their first discussion, held in Amman, Jordan, Al-Hadid remembers insisting that the MDA and PRC representatives forget politics.

“Once we get into politics, that’s it…We should focus on the needs of people in the region and act in their interests.”

Following that introduction, the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding to cement their new relationship.

That same year, Al-Hadid also assisted with the implementation of an amendment to the Geneva Conventions that allowed for the introduction of the red crystal symbol that can be used by Jewish aid workers uncomfortable with the cross or crescent motifs.

But it was at the Red Cross’s 2006 Red Cross conference that Al-Hadid faced his greatest challenge: “Lots of people were against Israel becoming a member of the Red Cross,” he says, recalling an early attempt to remove him as chair of the organisation’s standing committee.

He managed to persuade the cynics he was the best “I know people in the region,” he told them in response. “I know how to talk to the West and the East. I’m a Muslim, an Arab, my name is Mohammed.

“It’s easier for me to sell the idea. Don’t bring someone who will be tongue-tied and won’t be able to sell the deal.”

When the conference began, he adds, “everyone was worried”. It is a credit to Dr Al-Hadid’s skills in diplomacy that he managed to appeal to the better nature of everyone involved.

“I said, ‘To be able to sell the idea, we cannot just propose the Magen David Adom will be accepted. You have to [make clear]… it’s to serve victims in the region.

"I think it’s the best idea to admit the Palestinian Red Cross [alongside Magen David Adom] to show the world that we in the Red Cross movement are not concerned about politics, we want to help people, whatever nationality, whatever religion.’”

Today, Israeli medics are able to work alongside their Arab counterparts in large part thanks to Al-Hadid’s work, and a charity trek taking place next month will see volunteers hike from Israel into Jordan, further cementing the bond between the two nations’ emergency relief agencies and helping to secure more vital funds to support their work.

Al-Hadid’s success at uniting Israelis and Palestinians at the Red Cross marked the culmination of decades of work for the Jordanian, who had known since he was a child he wanted to work for the humanitarian aid group .

“My father used to bring leaflets of the Red Cross home,” he recalls. “I was an avid reader, I used to read a lot about the plight of refugees suffering.”

As a student, he was asked one day by a professor what he wanted to do after he graduated from university: “I told him I wanted to work for the Red Cross. He said, ‘Are you crazy?’

“I told him, this is what I want to do, but he said that is voluntary work, it is not a job. I said I can afford to give my time to charity — I want to be able to help.”

Al-Hadid studied medicine and went on to run a Red Cross blood bank and emergency operations in Jordan. He later played a leading role in providing Red Cross aid during the Gulf War, and served on the movement’s peace commission from 1985 to 1992.

He says: “In the Red Cross, the policy is we don’t ask questions — we don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong. We deal with the problem, we make sure we save lives and that’s it.”

JC Editor Jake Wallis Simons: It is an honour to raise funds for MDA’s lifesaving work

In November, my fiancée Roxanna and I will be joining an MDA trek to raise money for much-needed lifesaving equipment for Israel’s ambulance service.

We will be hiking in the memory of Hillel Rudich, a 32-year-old artisanal baker who drowned before I could save him near Efrat in 2014, leaving a widow and three children. I’m writing personally to ask you to give generously to this important cause.

Our hiking route will travel through both Israel and Jordan, reflecting the culture of MDA, as part of the broader International Committee of the Red Cross family. For MDA, saving lives is all that matters, regardless of race, colour, nationality or religious belief.

The history of MDA is testament to this principle. It was founded in 1930, by a nurse, Dr Mushalam Levontin, as a volunteer organisation, providing medical care to all of Palestine’s residents, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Druze. That principle guides the organisation to this day.

MDA is responsible for all of Israel’s first aid training, and provides and maintains its fleet of 1,716 ambulances, medicycles, lifeboats and air ambulances. It co-operates with the Palestinian Red Crescent, shares expertise internationally on mass casualty events, and collects and supplies 300,000 units of blood annually.

Last year, it opened the world’s most secure national blood bank. This remarkable work costs money. For years, MDA UK has maintained an umbilical cord to the Jewish state, sending support to rescue people like Hillel Rudich in the future.

In a region where taking life is sadly widespread, we are honoured to be raising funds to enable them to be saved.

Please give generously via the link below. Thank you.

To support the JC Editor and his fiancée on their MDA UK trek in memory of Hillel visit

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