Global Outrage Erupts After Israel’s ‘Unintentional’ Strike on Aid Workers

Global Outrage Erupts After Israel’s ‘Unintentional’ Strike on Aid Workers

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Even in the fog of war, there was little obscuring the grim reality. Israeli officials acknowledged Tuesday that their forces used a drone to fire missiles on a convoy in Gaza run by World Central Kitchen, a leading food nonprofit. The strike killed seven of the influential aid organization’s workers, including three British nationals, a U.S.-Canadian dual national, one Palestinian worker and citizens of Australia and Poland, according to the group.

In the incident’s aftermath, WCK announced that it was suspending operations in Gaza. A number of other humanitarian groups also followed suit. Reports indicate that the cars carrying the convoy were clearly marked as belonging to the charity, but Israeli forces struck its vehicles multiple times with pinpoint precision. The attack marked the first time foreign nationals doing relief work during the ongoing war in Gaza were killed.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war,” WCK CEO Erin Gore said in a statement. “This is unforgivable.”

Other prominent humanitarians pointed to the already staggering death toll sustained by aid workers during the conflict, which was triggered by militant group Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist strike on southern Israel. “This is not an isolated incident,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator James McGoldrick said, citing the killing of at least 196 humanitarians — the majority of whom are Palestinians — in the occupied West Bank and Gaza since October. “This is nearly three times the death toll recorded in any single conflict in a year.”

“You don’t strike a deconflicted convoy repeatedly, hitting three vehicles in succession over the course of a kilometer of road, by accident,” Jeremy Konyndyk, president of advocacy organization Refugees International and a former official in the Obama administration, wrote on social media. “You do that by fostering a military culture that treats Gaza as a free fire zone with total impunity for gross attacks on civilians.”

On March 25, World Central Kitchen shared video showing Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, who was killed in an Israeli strike, giving a tour of their Gaza kitchen. (Video: Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared contrite in the wake of the attack. He described it as “unintentional” and said Israeli authorities were “investigating the matter fully” and would “do everything possible to prevent this from happening again.”

Nonetheless, Ciarán Donnelly, a senior vice president at the International Rescue Committee, told my colleagues that the strike will have “a chilling effect on the willingness of aid workers to deploy into Gaza” at a time when the war-ravaged territory is the site of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, with upward of half its population on the brink of famine.

“It sends a signal that nowhere in Gaza is safe for anybody,” he said, adding that “activities and facilities that should be protected under international humanitarian law are very much in the firing line.”

WCK was founded in 2010 by high-profile Spanish American chef José Andrés and has grown into one of the most ubiquitous, responsive aid organizations to appear in areas hit by natural disasters and conflict. Unlike some other humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza — not least UNRWA, the U.N. agency responsible for Palestinians — it did not have a difficult relationship with the Israeli government.

Andres was scathing in his criticism. “The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing,” he said on social media. “It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon.”

White House spokesman John Kirby on April 2 called for a “swift” investigation into an Israeli strike that killed World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza. (Video: The Washington Post)

Israel’s Western allies also voiced their outrage. Appearing alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Paris, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said that “the protection of humanitarian personnel is a moral and legal imperative that everyone must adhere to,” adding that “nothing can justify such a tragedy.”

“These people are heroes; they run into the fire, not away from it,” Blinken said of the aid workers. “We shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called for “full accountability” for the death of Australian Lalzawmi Frankcom, a long-standing WCK aid worker. He extolled the values she represented and her character as a courageous humanitarian. “The truth is that this is beyond any reasonable circumstance — [that] someone going about providing aid and humanitarian assistance should lose their life,” he said.

Regional powers that Israel hopes to court scolded the Jewish state, as well. A statement from the Saudi Foreign Ministry described the incident as a “systematic continuation of the crimes and violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli occupation.” The Emiratis said it was “a flagrant violation of all international treaties.”

The incident adds to the mounting pressure on Netanyahu. At home, he’s facing growing protests over his particular approach to the war and inability to secure the release of dozens of Israeli hostages still in Hamas captivity. And abroad, he faces widespread anger over Israel’s punishing campaign, which has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians and driven the bulk of Gaza’s population from their homes.

“The matter of fact is the world is running out of patience for the Israeli war in Gaza, and this is one more incident, which adds to the dissatisfaction of the world,” Israeli analyst Yossi Melman said on new channel i24 News.

In Paris, Blinken urged Israel to swiftly investigate the attack but stopped short of an outright condemnation, unlike his French counterpart. He also justified the billions of dollars worth of weapons transfers to Israel, no matter mounting concerns that their use in the war may be violating U.S. law.

“That’s the system that’s in place, has been in place for a long time and one that continues,” Blinken told reporters.

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