The Red Cross humanitarian movement yesterday admitted the Israeli society that had been left waiting for nearly 60 years, resolving a longstanding concern over Crusaders, crosses and crescents.
With a round of applause, the international 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 is an extraordinarily exciting evening," said Bonnie McElveen Hunter, chairman of the American Red Cross, which had been campaigning for years for the Israeli society's admission. "This has been going on for 58 long years. It's time. It's overdue."
Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent had earlier "defeated completely" 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.
"I am pleased very much now," Levanon said.
Then the conference passed by a 237-54 vote a resolution setting up the legal basis for the 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.
The decision early yesterday 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.
Mediators failed on Wednesday to overcome opposition from Muslim countries.
The failure to reach a compromise after hours of negotiations forced delegates to reconvene for an overnight session for the votes because the opposition to Israel meant consensus approval was impossible.
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.
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