Jacques De Maio, who heads the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation to Israel and the PA, asserts: 'There is no IDF order to shoot suspects to kill, as political officials tried to convince us'; he also rejects claims of apartheid: 'There isn't a regime here that is based on the superiority of one race over another; there is no disenfranchisement of basic human rights based on so-called racial inferiority.'
With an annual budget of about $2 billion and 16,000 staff, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the biggest humanitarian organization in the world. About 85 percent of its budget comes from different countries, while the rest comes from international organizations and private donations.
Over 12,000 of the Red Cross's staff are working on the ground in 80 countries, providing vital aid to millions of peoples affected by armed conflicts and disasters. Red Cross teams provide food, clothes and medical aid at risk—and sometimes the cost—of their own lives. They can be found in Syria, Somalia, Ukraine, Haiti and other areas of war, hunger and conflict.
The Red Cross has been in Israel since 1948 and expanded its presence to the disputed territories in 1967. Despite that, "We still have to explain to the Israeli public who we are, what we're looking for here and what are our principles," said Jacques De Maio, the head of the Red Cross delegation to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
He's a Swiss national, 53 years old, sharp of tongue, deep of thought and fluent in many languages. De Maio gained his experience in Red Cross aid and rescue missions to the most oppressive and dangerous places on earth: Afghanistan, Rwanda, Ukraine, Somalia, Kuwait, Latin America and more.
"The most complicated thing," he said in a rare interview, "is to maintain the Red Cross's fundamental principle: neutrality, not taking a position in a situation where each side believes its position is the most moral and just and demands us, the Red Cross, to affiliate ourselves to it and condemn the other.
"I am constantly asked how we could treat both the aggressors and those who are defending themselves—terrorists and those who fight against terrorism—with the same level of leniency. And I answer: We offer help to people as human beings who need our help. Almost all of our work is done quietly, without publicity, often in secrecy, and our only goal is to protect people's natural rights. Not to deal with politics. Battling politics and political manipulation takes too much time and resources from us."
As an example of attempts at political manipulation, De Maio points to the Red Cross's response to two of the claims that are being made against Israel: That it is an apartheid state and that it carries out "extrajudicial killings."
"Israel gives us—unlike the security establishments in many other countries, including Western ones—quick access to senior officials in the IDF, the Prison Service, and other security services. We have useful, productive and professional dialogue with them. We clarified with them the issue of shooting assailants who carry out terror attacks and we reached an unequivocal conclusion that there is no IDF order to shoot suspects to kill, as political officials tried to convince us. The rules of engagement haven't changed, and have actually been made stricter. It is true that individual soldiers have made the wrong decision at times and that there are many instances of outrageous behavior at border crossings—at times in complete violation of orders. We do not hesitate to report that to the IDF and we usually get a professional response. That is why we rejected the accusation, and there were immediately those who claimed we were covering up war crimes committed by the IDF, and that we were serving the Zionists."
And what about the claim that Israel is an apartheid state?
"The Red Cress was very familiar with the regime in South Africa during Apartheid, and we respond to anyone who makes the argument that Israel is an apartheid state: No, there is no apartheid here. There isn't a regime here that is based on the superiority of one race over another; there is no disenfranchisement of basic human rights based on so-called racial inferiority. What does exist here is a bloody national conflict, the most prominent and tragic feature being that it is decades long, and there is occupation. Not apartheid."
The International Committee of the Red Cross is different from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the latter of which is a federation of national Red Cross, Red Crescent and Magen David Adom organizations. The ICRC became a full member of the federation only in 2005.
(Translated and edited by Yaara Shalom)