Decision to resume Gaza work is 'hardest and simplest', World Central Kitchen founder says

Jose Andres says that Israel needs to do more to 'protect and respect' aid workers in the enclave

Chef and founder of World Central Kitchen Jose Andres attends a memorial service for seven aid workers killed in an Israeli strike. EPA
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The World Central Kitchen's decision to resume work in Gaza less than a month after seven aid workers were killed in Israeli strikes is “both the hardest and the simplest”, chef and founder Jose Andres said on Tuesday.

The organisation has 276 lorries with a capacity to provide about eight million meals that are prepared to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, in addition to more vehicles in Jordan, Mr Andres said.

“Our decision to resume feeding in Gaza is both the hardest and the simplest one we could make,” Mr Andres wrote in The Washington Post.

“Hardest because barely a month has passed since Israeli forces killed seven of our World Central Kitchen family, despite knowing their location, movements and the nature of their essential work.

“Yet it’s a simple decision for us because the need is so great.”

World Central Kitchen resumed humanitarian work on Monday with a Palestinian team to address widespread hunger in Gaza, the organisation said.

On April 1, the Israeli army launched a series of strikes on a WCK convoy, killing seven aid workers who had been travelling in a three-vehicle convoy.

Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha; dual US-Canadian citizen Jacob Flickinger; Australian Lalzawmi Frankcom; Polish citizen Damian Sobol and three Britons, John Chapman, James Kirby and James Henderson, were killed.

The killing triggered worldwide condemnation, including from President Joe Biden, who said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the attack. He later threatened that US support for Israel could change unless more is done to address the humanitarian disaster in Gaza.

After the attack, the WCK suspended its operations in the enclave.

In the op-ed, the celebrity chef said that he still has “at best a limited understanding” of how aid workers in Gaza will be protected while working, and there are signs that not much has changed on the ground.

“We expect and insist that the Israel Defence Forces protect and respect the lives and work of our Palestinian team members, just like citizens from other nations,” Mr Andres wrote.

“There are multiple reports of other convoys coming under fire since April 1, signalling that little has changed to increase protection.”

According to the UN, 224 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began on October 7.

After the attack, Israel apologised and said the army had struck the convoy after mistakenly perceiving it to be carrying members of an armed group.

The UN and other aid organisations say the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire and famine is looming, amid Israeli restrictions on the entry of aid.

Mr Andres said WCK convoys carrying food have been held up “for hours on end” by Israeli authorities, despite co-ordination.

Last week, those killed in the strike were honoured in a memorial service in Washington. In a speech at the ceremony, Mr Andres said there was “no excuse” for the killings and the official Israeli explanation was “not good enough”.

He said his organisation demands an independent investigation into what happened.

For months, the Biden administration has been urging Israel to enable the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

It has also been trying to broker a ceasefire of at least six weeks during which hostages can be released and Palestinians can return to their homes.

But Mr Biden, who is running for re-election in November, has also been steadfast in his support for Israel, providing military, political and diplomatic support, even as the death toll in Gaza continues to rise.

Pressure is mounting on Mr Biden to do more to ensure Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protects civilians and allows more assistance to enter. There have also been calls for the US to place conditions on military aid to Israel.

“We also expect the Biden administration to hold the Netanyahu government true to its commitments on humanitarian aid,” Mr Andres wrote.

Updated: April 30, 2024, 6:13 PM