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CANADA BACKS DOWN OVER AMBULANCE TAX DISPUTE

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CANADA BACKS DOWN OVER AMBULANCE TAX DISPUTE

 

The move averts the possibility of a high-profile legal battle in the Canadian Supreme Court over Israel's right to provide life-saving treatment in the Palestinian territories.

The row broke out some two months ago after a Canadian Federal Court ruled that MDA ? the Israeli version of the Red Cross - should lose its tax-free status under a law prohibiting giving tax breaks to volunteer groups operating ?in occupied territories'.

Yohanan Gur head of MDA's action committee said at the time that he did not know where the initiative to cancel their tax-free status came from - the customs and revenue agency itself or anti-Israel groups who contacted the Canadian Government, indicating a belief that issue may have been politically motivated.

Over 43,000 people signed an Internet petition calling on the government to reverse its decision. In it, the MDA said that the move would seriously damage the organization's core-funding and put untold lives at risk, referring to the increased terrorist targeting of Israeli civilians that is stretching emergency services to capacity in Israel.

As "the Israeli version of the Red Cross," the MDA argued that it treats all the people of Israel, of all faiths, without discrimination. As such, "it is not a political organization and has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" ? claiming that the Canadian government's decision would "negatively affect the level of medical care in Israel for the entire population, including Jews, Muslims, and Christians."

Furthermore, the MDA's Israeli chief, Dr. Moshe Melloul spoke of the level of co-operation between his organization and the Palestinian Red Crescent in the treatment and transportation of patients in the territories, ?despite the conflict'.

Magen David Adom, established in 1930 ? remains an anomaly in the world of international emergency medicine. The International Red Cross Federation includes in its ranks the Red Crescent Organisation set up to address Muslim sensitivities about the symbolism of the cross, but nothing that recognizes those same sensitivities among the Jews.

Although it adheres to the humanitarian principles of the Red Cross, even Dr Melloul concedes that it would be "almost impossible" for the MDA to be recognized by the Federation, because it would require the consent of all the signatories of the Geneva conventions, an unlikely event considering Israel's increasing isolation within the international community.

The support that MDA receives, therefore, tends to emanate from voluntary donations from the wealthy Jewish communities in North America and Europe. The loss of tax-exempt status in Canada would have put almost $3m funding each year at risk.

The dispute appears to have had its roots in the donation of an old MDA armored Ambulance to the IDF in 1999, and the use that MDA allows the security forces of its high-frequency radio network in times of crisis. The Canadian Federal Court of Appeals had argued in a ruling two months ago, that the MDA is involved directly in ?military operations' and should forfeit its beneficial tax-free status.

The MDA refuted the claims head on, with Melloul telling an International Red Cross Association meeting in Canada last month that the authorities responsible for the move "do not understand the work of MDA".

"I don't think they have ever been in the region. We don't really have borders - wherever we are needed, we go."

MDA's "wherever we are needed" philosophy seems to have be the fundamental point of contention. Usually the first respondent during a terrorist attack, their staff have been forced to wear bullet-proof vests and use armored vehicles when in conflict situations ? having been subjected to increasing levels of assault as the intifada has escalated, from the initial stone-throwing to the more recent attacks using armor piercing bullets.

Clearly, the greater the levels of assault, the greater the need for protection. As such MDA do their best to liaise with the International Red Cross, Red Crescent and Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to ensure their own protection. The fact that Palestinian Red Crescent Ambulances have been used for smuggling explosives is something that the MDA also dismisses, "One individual was caught, but it is not the policy of the PRC," Melloul told the Association.

The change of heart by the Canadian Government, preventing the need for the Canadian MDA to continue its planned appeal to the nation's Supreme Court, has been welcomed in Montreal where the organization is based.

"We are delighted that we will continue to be able to solicit the support of the Canadian community," national director Joseph Bitton said in a statement. "Tax deductible receipts will be issued as usual."

This time, it appears that popular support for the MDA provoked lawmakers and Government officials into action. Nevertheless, the support from the Canadian judiciary for a move that would have begun the politicization of humanitarian emergency services in the region is in itself a worrying development in a conflict that is causing greater international polarization. Rarely has Israel's historic place, ?alone among the nations' ? been so apparent in modern politics.

Related Links: www.magendavidadom.org