Gaza aid worker deaths send a chilling message

There are no red lines for an Israeli military campaign that has discarded all rules and conventions of war

UN staff members inspect the remains of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by an Israeli strike in central Gaza on Monday. AFP
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Less than three weeks ago, Erin Gore – the chief executive of the World Central Kitchen charity – was in Abu Dhabi as the UAE co-ordinated efforts with the non-profit to avert famine in Gaza. In a joint interview with The National alongside Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Co-operation, Ms Gore spoke for many people frustrated at the dire situation in the Palestinian enclave when she said: “I cannot sleep at night, knowing we are not trying. I believe the greatest failure is to do nothing at all.”

That call was answered by WCK staff and volunteers, who along with another charity called Open Arms, helped organise food relief to Gaza through a maritime corridor with the help of the UAE, Cyprus and other partners. Among the WCK workers was a team of seven international humanitarians who had delivered 100 tonnes of food aid brought in through the sea corridor before their convoy – which was travelling through a deconflicted zone in armoured vehicles clearly bearing the WCK logo – was hit in an Israeli air strike on Deir Al Balah on Monday, despite co-ordinating its movements with Israel’s military.

Israeli officials have said they will investigate, but few will soon forget the images of the aid workers’ bodies, some with their passports, laid out after the attack. The shocking incident took place shortly after Israel’s operation in Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital reduced much of the medical complex to rubble and Palestinian civilians continue to die not only from bombardment but from disease and hunger. With increased attacks, the rules and norms of war, such as protecting medical and humanitarian workers, have been discarded.

The reality is this: an effective humanitarian operation cannot be run while a war rages and aid workers, journalists, doctors and ambulance drivers are targeted. Israel’s indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians and its obstruction of aid through Gaza’s land crossings have forced some of its allies and partners to rely on sub-optimal aid operations such as air drops and sea corridors. The brutal strike on the WCK convoy, coupled with the deaths of more than 150 UN workers since October 7, sends a chilling message: if you come to help in Gaza, no one can guarantee your safety.

Those who have been giving political and diplomatic cover to Israel or making excuses for the egregious conduct of its armed forces are now confronted with an attack for which there is no alibi, and few will be reassured by Israel’s claim that it will scrutinise the incident; such a probe is likely to join a long list of other, inconclusive investigations that have punctuated this decades-long conflict.

A lack of accountability in this war is setting a dangerous precedent for the future, one in which aid workers such as the WCK staff who, as Ms Gore said in Abu Dhabi “thrive in making hot meals”, can be killed by a military wielding some of the world’s most advanced technology. WCK has since suspended its operation in Gaza, and Palestinian civilians will suffer as a result. Almost six months into this catastrophic war, things are going from bad to worse. Something needs to change.

Published: April 03, 2024, 3:00 AM