Israeli strike on World Central Kitchen workers highlights 'deconfliction' failings

Seven aid workers from WCK killed in Israeli strike in central Gaza

One of three World Central Kitchen vehicles struck by an Israeli drone attack in Deir Al Balah. Aid agencies and governments have spoken of their outrage over the strike. Reuters
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The Israeli strike on a Gaza aid convoy highlights the risks humanitarian workers are taking and the failings of Israeli military procedures that are supposed to prevent such incidents.

Seven members of the humanitarian food organisation World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed on Monday after an Israeli drone struck three vehicles that had been travelling in a convoy in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza.

The vehicles were marked with WCK's logo and the charity had told the Israeli military of its planned movements through a “deconfliction” channel. Israel is investigating the strike but it appears WCK's message did not get through to the relevant military units.

“It's shocking that six months into this war, there's not a better deconfliction mechanism,” Dave Harden, a former mission director for USAID in the West Bank and Gaza, told The National.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday said a “thorough” investigation would be followed by implementation of “lessons learnt”, including the opening of a new situation room to better enable co-ordination with aid groups.

But Mr Harden said Israel promising to investigate itself is insufficient.

“An investigation is simply not enough,” he said.

“There has to be a systemic structure. A professional, accountable deconfliction system that has to be basically acceptable to the humanitarians. Without that, it doesn't mean anything."

Israel has killed dozens of aid workers in Gaza since the start of the conflict in October, but Monday's strike struck a raw nerve in Washington, where politicians know well the work of World Central Kitchen's founder Jose Andres, who runs several popular restaurants in the capital.

US President Joe Biden said he was "outraged" by the attack and demanded accountability.

About 200 aid workers killed

Israel's strike highlights a disregard for the safety of aid workers in the Gaza, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“The multiplicity of such events is the inevitable result of the way this war is currently being conducted,” he told reporters.

Mr Dujarric said at least 196 humanitarian workers have been killed since October in Gaza, “one of the world's most dangerous and difficult place to work as a humanitarian”.

The UN keeps delivering aid on an ad hoc basis, which is “not a way to run a major aid operation”.

Mr Dujarric said although there was a deconfliction mechanism in place, it was not working properly.

“And this is why the Secretary General and all of the senior leaders at the UN continue to push for a humanitarian ceasefire so we can deliver aid safely,” he stressed.

According to World Central Kitchen, its team had been co-ordinating their movements with the Israeli military.

“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. This is unforgivable,” said chief executive Erin Gore.

UNRWA’s director of communications Juliette Touma told The National that the killing of the seven WCK aid workers was a “testament that no one is safe in Gaza, including aid workers, or even aid workers who are driving in armoured cars on a deconflicted route wearing their armoured gear, they are not protected.”

She said the UN agency was only able to provide aid to Gaza's northern region when the Israeli military gave them approval.

“We provide very detailed information on the movement of the humanitarian convoy that includes the names and nationalities of the members of the convoy, the number of vehicles, the content on of the convoy, what supplies are we carrying, the timing of the convoy, the route of the convoy including the GPS co-ordinates,” she said.

“We need more humanitarian aid, not less humanitarian aid, and there is an efficient, easy, fast, cheap, safe way to bring in food into Gaza and other types of systems and that's through the road.”

Ms Touma highlighted the critical need for Israel to allow more humanitarian supplies into Gaza, warning that the “clock is ticking very, very fast, towards famine.”

Chilling effect

Monday's attack will probably to have a chilling effect on other organisations distributing food and assistance across Gaza just as widespread famine is expected to take hold.

Adil Haque, law professor at Rutgers university, told The National, it’s “tragic but understandable” that aid groups are suspending operations in Gaza.

“The result is that Israel is violating international law twice over: first by carrying out illegal attacks, and second by preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid."

WCK said it was pausing its operations. American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera), which has been delivering food in the densely populated enclave and worked closely with WCK, have also suspended their efforts.

“If WCK and Anera are out of the picture and if other organisations that have access to those areas follow suit, it's just going to add fuel to this catastrophic fire that's already raging,” said Kate Phillips-Barrasso, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at the Mercy Corps non-profit group that has been operating in Gaza since 1986.

Since October 7, Mercy Corps operations have been gradually reduced with the situation deteriorating in Gaza. The group still has 60 members working in and around Rafah, but are unable to provide relief to those elsewhere in the enclave.

Ms Phillips-Barrasso praised WCK's efforts to provide desperately needed aid to other parts of Gaza.

WCK was one of two charities helping to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza through a maritime corridor as famine spreads across the enclave.

It worked with Open Arms to send the first aid ship from Cyprus last month.

The team had managed to deliver 100 tonnes of food aid brought through the corridor shortly before their convoy was hit, the NGO said.

Updated: April 03, 2024, 12:48 PM