The Red Cross and Red Crescent fight: Always on the side of people

by Jacques de Maio, head of the ICRC's delegation in Israel and the occupied territories

This is our stance – and it's non-negotiable. Even if, all too often, and sometimes precisely because of it, we find ourselves at the heart of geopolitical turmoil and controversy, and our staff and volunteers in harm's way, while responding to humanitarian needs. Today, the birthday of our Movement, we celebrate the fundamental principles underlying our action. These were written a century after the Red Cross Movement's creation, and remain as relevant as ever. This despite how dramatically the landscape has changed – one need just look around us in the Middle East today. Fundamentally, and despite the challenges, nobody embodies these principles better than our Movement's volunteers: they uphold these principles and values in all circumstances – not against anybody, but in favour of the people who need help.

The Red Cross was founded 150 years ago, inspired by the plight of the wounded after the Battle of Solferino. This was the birth of humanitarianism as we know it today, to provide neutral, independent, and impartial aid to all people in need, regardless of any other consideration. These principles are the core values that still guide our work worldwide, including in Israel and the occupied territories, where they are tested every day.

Since our Movement was born, human suffering has been a constant feature all over the world. We have strived to respond the best we could, learning from the past, adapting to the present, and preparing for the future. The challenges are more than huge: they range from the impact of environmental change on countless people to the unbearable marginalization of whole segments of mankind, from the spreading of transnational conflicts to the recurrent violations of the law of war across the globe. War, disasters, migrations, lack of access to basic health or to a dignified livelihood, these are our battles.

In Israel and the occupied territories, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) and the Magen David Adom (MDA), full-fledged members of the global RCRC Movement, as well as the ICRC, the actual founder of the Movement, endeavour to support vulnerable communities during quieter times and periods of high-intensity conflict. While the ICRC focuses on the impact of occupation and armed violence, the PRCS provides vital ambulance, psychosocial and medical services to all communities in the Palestinian territories, and distributes assistance to those affected by conflict. As for the MDA, integrating volunteers from all walks of Israeli society, its emergency medical services respond to the needs of anyone across Israel. Both Societies cooperate across the lines – their humanitarian mission and impartiality are a reality across the political divides.

Voluntary service is has been the historical cornerstone of our work. Our Movement's volunteers deserve our special appreciation. The commitment and physical courage they display in responding all over the world – from earthquake-devastated Nepal, where MDA volunteers also rushed to help, to conflict-ridden hot spots such as Syria, where the PRCS strives to help a devastated refugee community, to name just two examples, is simply admirable.

In today's world, humanitarian values and rules are being challenged, and our members have paid too high a price. Our thoughts go particularly to the families of deceased volunteers and paramedics of PRCS in Gaza and Yarmouk Camp who were killed while helping others. We also remember all RCRC Movement staff who lost their lives in other parts of the world, such as in Yemen, Mali and Syria only these past few weeks.

As we commemorate World Red Cross Day today, each and every one of our volunteers, who give their best in your own environment and capacity, are an inspiration for all of us. Often this is under hard and difficult circumstances, in conflicts, in disasters, in big cities and remote rural areas, often far from the limelight and political priorities, without the full recognition to which they are entitled. Continue to serve one another, and bring the world together for humanity! Along with 189 National Societies across the world, we celebrate one and a half century of joint humanitarian action. While looking at the present with lucidity, and at the future with hope, we must continue, with all of you, to act with unfailing determination to make a difference for the people who need us.