The United Kingdom branch of the International Friends of Magen David Adom has donated $750,000 toward construction of an MDA center in the Arab town of Sakhnin. A cornerstone ceremony was held Tuesday for the aid station, the first of its kind sponsored by an overseas Jewish benevolent fund, in the presence of British Ambassador Simon MacDonald.
The new ambulance station will serve both Sakhnin and the surrounding municipalities - an area with a population of more than 70,000 people. A new, modern building, the station will house a medical clinic, a blood donation center, training rooms and rest areas for ambulance workers.
Until now, MDA staff have had to borrow space in existing buildings. According to Eli Benson, the executive director of MDA UK, "They've been pushed from pillar to post. Wherever there's been room, they've let them use it, but it's no good."
At the dedication ceremony, Sakhnin Mayor Muhammad Bashir thanked the representatives of MDA UK in Arabic, calling the initiative "a great opportunity for cooperation."
MacDonald, speaking before the ceremony, reaffirmed the UK's commitment to fostering good relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. "The British government believes in citizenship and community relations," he said. "It's a policy challenge, but we believe that we can improve the situation by sharing our experiences." He praised MDA UK for its commitment to the entire Israeli society.
MDA Director-General Eli Bin and members of the Sakhnin Municipal Council also attended the ceremony.
A significant portion of the funding for Magen David Adom comes from abroad. MDA UK has previously paid for ambulances, medical supplies and the GPS command and control system used by dispatchers.
In Sakhnin, MDA UK paid for the construction of the building while its upkeep will be funded by MDA Israel and the municipality. Benson was optimistic about expanding the effort to other Arab communities. "We're looking into it, and think it's a great idea," he said.
MDA volunteers from the Asher region, including residents of Sakhnin, sounded excited about having a new facility. "It's good of course, because now we can serve the entire area," said Ali Zvidat, 18, who has volunteered at MDA for three years. Suzane Alyas, 16, agreed. "The old place was standard, not like this," she said. "It was only open 13 hours a day. Now we are open 24 hours a day."
The larger space will also allow the station to accept more volunteers. This is an important improvement, since MDA also acts as a career education program. Orwa Aboyunis, 19, has volunteered as an ambulance attendant for three years and is now on his way to medical school in Prague. He said the experience had been challenging and rewarding. "It's a difficult thing," he said, "but the best thing is driving in the ambulance at high speed with the siren on. That, and saving someone's life."