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Israel’s war on aid workers in Gaza

April 3, 2024 at 9:15 am

Passports of the officials working at the US-based international volunteer aid organization World Central Kitchen (WCK), who are killed, are seen after an Israeli attack on a vehicle belonging to WCK in Deir Al-Balah of Gaza on April 02, 2024 [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

Eulogies should rarely be taken at face value. Plaster saints take the place of complex individuals; faults transmute into golden virtues. But there was little in the way of fault regarding Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom’s purpose, and her tireless work for the charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) in northern Gaza had not gone unnoticed. Sadly, the Australian national, along with six other members of WCK, were also noticed by the Israel Defence [sic] Forces (IDF) around midnight on 1-2 April and targeted in a missile strike that killed them all.

Other members of the humanitarian aid team killed were Polish citizen Damian Sobol, three British nationals — John Chapman, James “Jim” Henderson and James Kirby — and a US-Canadian dual national, Jacob Flickinger, as well as their Palestinian driver and translator Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, known as “Saif”.

The charity workers had been unloading food supplies from Cyprus that had been sent by sea in a designated “deconflicted” area. All three of their vehicles, two armoured and one “soft skin”, sported the WCK logo on their roofs. Even more galling for the charity was the fact that coordinating efforts between WCK and the IDF had taken place as the small convoy left the Deir Al-Balah warehouse, where the individuals had been responsible for uploading over 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid.

According to Haaretz, three missiles were fired at the convoy in rapid succession by a Hermes 450 UAV directed by a unit guarding the aid transport route. The troops in question claimed to have spotted what they thought was an armed figure riding a truck that had entered one of the aid storage areas with three WCK vehicles. The armed figure, presumed to be a Hamas fighter, never left the warehouse in the company of the vehicles.

READ: US urges Israel to hold ‘swift, impartial’ investigation into airstrike that killed humanitarian aid workers

In a public relations war that Israel is increasingly losing, various statements of variable quality and sincerity could only confirm that fact. IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that he had spoken to WCK founder Chef José Andrés “and expressed the deepest condolences of the Israel Defence Forces to the families and the entire World Central Kitchen family.”

Hagari added the IDF’s expression of “sincere sorrow to our allied nations who have been doing and continue to do so much to assist those in need.”

This was a bit rich given the systematic efforts of the IDF and Israeli officials to stifle and strangulate the provision of aid in the Gaza Strip

Such moves are obvious, from the logistical side of keeping land crossings closed and delaying access to those which are open, to aggressive efforts to defund the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and have it shut down.

As for the deadly missile attack itself, Hagari announced that “the highest levels” of military officialdom had been “reviewing the incident” to comprehend the circumstances that led to the killings. “We will get to the bottom of this and we will share our findings transparently.” Again, exalting the prowess of his organisation in investigating such matters, he promised that the army’s General Staff Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism – yet another “independent” body designed to give the impression of thoroughness and impartiality – would look into this “serious incident” to “reduce the risk of such an event from occurring again.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a better barometric reading of the mood, and it was certainly not one of grieving or feeling aggrieved. For him, the killings had merely been “a tragic instance of our forces unintentionally harming innocent people in the Gaza Strip. It happens in war.” Israel would “investigate it” and had been “in contact with the governments and we will do everything we can so that it doesn’t happen again.”

OPINION: Israel not only wants to destroy UNRWA, but all humanitarian endeavours

This is mightily optimistic given the butcher’s bill of 173 aid workers killed from UNRWA alone, with 196 humanitarians said to have been killed by Israel over the past six months as of 20 March. Aid workers have been killed in IDF strikes despite the regular provision of coordinates on their locations. Be it through reckless indifference, conscious intent or incompetence, the morgues continue to be filled with their remains.

A bristling CEO of WCK, Erin Gore, was blunt about the implications of the strike. “This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war.”

Project HOPE’s Executive Vice President, Chris Skopec, drew attention to the obvious, yet repeatedly neglected fact in the Gaza conflict, that aid workers are protected by international humanitarian law. Gaza, though, has become “one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a humanitarian worker. This is unacceptable and demands accountability through the International Criminal Court.”

Responsibility for the killings is unlikely to translate into accountability, let alone any public outing of the individuals involved. This is not to say that such exercises are impossible, even with Israel not being a member of the ICC. The pageantry of guilt could still be pursued.

When Malaysian Airlines MH17 was downed over Ukraine in July 2014 by a Buk missile, killing all 298 on board, international efforts of terrier-like ferocity were initiated against those responsible for the deadly act. The MH17 Joint Investigation Team (JIT), comprising the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine, identified the missile as having come from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian armed forces from Kursk. Four suspects were identified. Of the four, one was acquitted, with the District Court of The Hague handing down three life sentences in November 2022 along with an order to pay over €16 million in compensation to the victims’ families. The individuals remain at large, however, and the Kremlin largely unmoved, but the point was made.

In this case, any hope of seeking external accountability for the killing of the WCK team is likely to be kept in-house. Excuses about errors and misidentification are already filling press releases and media conferences. Doing so will enable the IDF to continue its programme of quashing the Palestinian cause while pursuing an undisclosed war against those it considers, publicly or otherwise, to be its ameliorating collaborators. With an announcement by various humanitarian groups, including WCK, Anera and Project Hope, that their operations will be suspended following the killings, starvation as a weaponised policy in Gaza now has its formal blessing.

READ: Canada condemns Israel strike on Gaza aid workers, demands full probe

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.