Jean Henry Dunant

Known as the founder of the “Red Cross” organization, and the owner of the ideas which inspired the first Geneva Convention on the rules of war, Jean Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, was also considered to be labeled as the first Christian Zionist. Devoted to his dream to make the world a better place for all humankind, alongside his staunch belief in the Bible, Dunant took a crucial role in the history of shaping the Christian Zionism movement and the restoration of the Jewish people in the Holy Land of Israel.

Dunant was born in Geneva, Switzerland, as the first son of Jean-Jacques and Antoinette, who were stressed the value of social work- his father was active helping orphans and parolees, and worked in a prison and Orphanage, while his mother worked with the sick and poor. At the age of 18, Dunant joined the Geneva Society for Alms giving, and founded the “Thursday Association”- young men that met to study the Bible and help the poor people of Geneva. In 1852, he founded the Geneva chapter of the YMCA and three years later took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of its international organization. Dunant left Calvin College in 1849 and began a successful apprenticeship with the money-changing firm Lullin et Sautter where he remained as an employee of the bank.

His journeys to Algeria and Tunis during the years 1853-1859 brought him to establish his business initiative and image in addition to also having a strong impact on his soul; in June 1859 he was a witness to the horrible results of the Solfrerino battle in Tunis, thousands of wounded, dying and fatalities left on the battle-field. Dunant himself took the initiative to organize the civilian population to assist the injured and sick soldiers by organizing doctors and the purchase of materials, while convincing the population to serve the wounded without regard to their side. After returning to Geneva, he published his book “Memories from Solferino” and developed the idea of an international organization that should provide care to wounded soldiers. He traveled through Europe in an attempt to promote his ideas and gather people around it. These ideas later became an international organization called “The Red Cross”. In October 1863, 14 states took part in a meeting in Geneva organized by the committee to discuss the improvement of care for wounded soldiers. A year later on 22 August 1864, a diplomatic conference organized by the Swiss Parliament led to the signing of the First Geneva Convention by 12 states.

True to his religious beliefs, in 1866 Dunant appealed for the founding of the International Society for the Renewal of the Orient. His plan outlined the establishment of a colony in Palestine that would, in due course, become a place of settlement for the Jews, and ultimately a small Jewish homeland that would aid in the liberation of the Holy Land from the Ottoman Empire. In 1867, he founded the Association for the Colonization of Palestine. Because of his Zionist beliefs, Dunant was invited by Herzl to accompany him to the First World Zionist Congress, one of only a handful of gentiles to be invited.

In 1901, Dunant was awarded the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize for his role in founding the International Red Cross Movement and initiating the Geneva Convention, and in 1903 Dunant was given an honorary doctorate by the medical faculty of the University of Heidelberg.

According to his wishes, he was buried without ceremony in the Sihlfeld Cemetery in Zurich, and his birthday, 8 May, is celebrated as the World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. In honor of Dunant, the second highest peak in Switzerland was renamed to Dunant-spitze (Peak Dunant), in addition to the general hospital of Athens, Greece that was named after him as well. In Israel, the Jerusalem Forest was dedicated in his memory.