Killing humanitarians: Israel’s war on aid workers in Gaza

April 3, 2024
Image of the remains of the beseiged Al Shifa Hospital complex, the largest in Gaza. Photo: @sahouraxo/X

Haaretz reported on April 2 that three missiles had been fired in rapid succession at the convoy by a Hermes 450 UAV on direction of 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 World Central Kitchen (WCK) vehicles.

The armed figure, presumed to be Hamas, never left the warehouse in the company of the vehicles.

In a public relations war Israel is increasingly losing, various statements of variable quality and sincerity could only confirm that fact.

IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said he had spoken to WCK founder Chef José Andrés “and expressed the deepest condolences of the Israel Defense 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 is a bit rich given the IDF and Israeli officials’ efforts to stifle aid into the Gaza Strip, from keeping land crossings closed and delaying access to existing ones, to aggressive efforts to defund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

As for the operation itself, Hagari announced that “the highest levels” of the IDF had been “reviewing the incident”.

“We will get to the bottom of this and we will share our findings transparently.”

Exalting his organisation’s prowess in investigating such matters, Hagari promised that the army’s General Staff Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism — yet another 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.

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”.

This is mightily optimistic given that 173 UNRWA aid workers, along with 196 humanitarians, are said (as of March 20) to have died since last October 7.

Despite the regular provision of coordinates on aid workers’ locations, IDF strikes have killed them either through reckless indifference, conscious intent, or a lack of competence.

Erin Gore, CEO of WCK, 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 genocide that aid workers are protected by international humanitarian law.

Gaza had 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 a 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 International Criminal Court.

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 feat.

The MH17 Joint Investigation Team, 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 more than €16 million (A$26.5 million) in compensation to the victims.

The individuals remain at large and the Kremlin largely unmoved. But the point was made.

In the case of the WCK workers, any hope for seeking an external accounting for the event is likely to be kept in-house.

Excuses of error and misidentification are already filling press releases and conferences. Doing so will enable the IDF to continue its program of quashing the Palestinian cause while pursuing an undisclosed war against those it considers, publicly or otherwise, to be its ameliorating collaborators.

With various humanitarian groups including WCK, Anera and Project Hope, announcing that their operations will be suspended following the killings, starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza, can receive its official blessing.

[Binoy Kampmark currently lectures at RMIT University.]

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