The Magen David Adom (מגן דוד אדום, abbr. MDA or Mada) is Israel's national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service. The name means "Red Shield of David" but is usually translated as "Red Star of David". Since June 2006, Magen David Adom has been officially recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross as the national aid society of the state of Israel under the Geneva Conventions, and a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
The Magen David Adom organization was formed in 1930 as a volunteer association with a single branch in Tel Aviv. After opening branches in Jerusalem and Haifa, it was extended nationwide five years later, providing medical support to the public and the Haganah. On 12 July 1950, the Knesset passed a law making MDA's status as Israel's national emergency service official;
- To carry out the functions of a national society, to be for this purpose an auxiliary service of the Medical Service of the Israeli Defense Forces in time of war and to prepare for this in time of peace;
- To maintain general first aid services;
- To maintain a storage service of blood, plasma and their by-products;
- Instruction in first aid and pre-hospital emergency medicine;
- Maintaining a volunteer infrastructure and training them in first aid, basic and advanced life support including Mobile Intensive Care Units;
- Transportation of patients, women in labor, and evacuation of those wounded and killed in road accidents;
- ''Transportation of doctors, nurses and medical auxiliary forces.
Though MDA currently staffs approximately 1,200 emergency medical technicians, paramedics and emergency physicians, it still relies heavily on over 10,000 volunteers who serve in both operational and administrative capacities. MDA headquarters and its blood bank are located at the Tel HaShomer complex. The organization operates 95 stations with a fleet of over 700 ambulances, mobile intensive care units (MICU) and armored ambulances nationwide. Most of the fleet is made up of regular size vans manned by the equivalents of "basic" (EMT-B, Hovesh) and "intermediate" (EMT-I, Hovesh Bacir) emergency medical technicians as well as teenage and international volunteers (often qualified as first responders), while MICUs similar to the US Type II units and manned by paramedics and physicians respond only to the most medically serious cases. Most major stations also include special units for responding to mass-casualty incidents like natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Air ambulance service is provided by Israeli Air Force MEDEVAC helicopters, however MDA imported four MBB Bo 105 from Germany and plans to employ them to improve response times in peripheral areas. Previous attempts to integrate independent helicopter service in the 1970s were unsuccessful due to high cost.
Unique among civilian emergency medical services due to its role as national aid society according to the Geneva Conventions, MDA can become an auxiliary arm of the Israel Defense Forces during times of war.
From its creation until 2006, Magen David Adom had been denied membership in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement since it has refused to replace its red Star of David emblem with a pre-approved symbol.
The official reason for the denial of membership was concerns about symbol proliferation; at the same 1929 conference which granted use of the Red Crescent and Red Lion and Sun, a limitation was placed on acceptance of any further emblems. The "Red Star of David" symbol was not submitted to the ICRC until 1931.
Similar concerns of India, Ceylon and the former Soviet Union regarding the use of non-Hindu and seemingly religious symbols were also dismissed by the ICRC, but their national bodies chose to adopt the Red Cross as their official emblems in order to gain entry. The Red Cross — the inverse of the Swiss flag, the country of origin of the founder of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement — is not intended as a religious symbol, but is often perceived as such.
In her March 2000 letter to the International Herald Tribune, Dr. Bernadine Healy, then president of the American Red Cross, wrote: "The international committee's feared proliferation of symbols is a pitiful fig leaf, used for decades as the reason for excluding the Magen David Adom - the Shield (or Star) of David." In protest, the American Red Cross withheld millions in administrative funding to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) since May 2000.
Since the mid-1990s, there has also been extensive and growing co-operation between MDA and the ICRC including, among other things, a USD$2.2 million expenditure on strengthening ties between the two organisations, the signing in 2000 of a two year co-operation statement, the permanent placement of an ICRC co-operation officer in MDA headquarters, and extensive support of the MDA's blood bank activities. In addition, there are bilateral cooperation agreements between MDA and a number of national Red Cross societies.
On December 7, 2005, a diplomatic conference of states party to the Geneva Conventions adopted a third additional protocol, thereby introducing a new protective emblem, famously dubbed the "Red Crystal." This "third protocol emblem" is hailed as a truly universal emblem free of religious, ethnic, or political connotation. The new symbol is a red square frame tilted at a 45 degree angle. According to the rules of the third additional protocol, MDA can continue to use the Red Star of David as its sole emblem for indicative purposes within Israel. For indicative use in abroad missions, MDA can, depending on the specific situation in the host country, either incorporate the Red Star of David inside the Red Crystal or use the Red Crystal alone.
On June 22, 2006, MDA was recognised by the ICRC and admitted as a full member into the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, following adoption of the Red Crystal symbol in the statutes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement on the same level as the Red Cross and Red Crescent symbols.