After World Central Kitchen workers killed in Gaza, outrage spreads


Chef José Andrés said Wednesday that Israeli forces had targeted a World Central Kitchen convoy in the Gaza Strip “systematically, car by car,” killing seven aid workers, including one American, as the White House said it wanted to see “accountability” for the attack. 

The deaths of the World Central Kitchen staffers on Monday wasn’t the first time humanitarians have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war. But this attack killed foreigners, provoking a notable response.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized in a video, promising an independent investigation, and Israel’s military expressed “severe sorrow.” President Joe Biden placed a condolence phone call to Andrés, and the White House said he was “outraged” by the attack.

More: Joe Biden expresses outrage over deaths of World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza

Humanitarian experts said the deaths were all the more striking because World Central Kitchen was known among aid groups both for its caution and its close coordination with the Israeli military in delivering aid.

Israel even helped Andrés’ group build a jetty on Gaza’s Mediterranean seafront to bring food by ship into Gaza. 

If World Central Kitchen – run by an internationally respected celebrity chef, boasting a formidable relationship with the Israeli Defense Forces, operating on a “deconflicted” route arranged with the military – can be attacked, observers say, then anyone in Gaza can.

“What this incident shows us is the IDF’s total disregard for the protection of civilians in Gaza,” former National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an interview.

Waning support among Americans for Israel’s Gaza war

The attack on World Central Kitchen workers comes as some recent polls show fading American support for Israel’s war in Gaza. A Gallup survey published late last month shows approval for the war falling from 50% in November to 36% in March, with 55% now disapproving.

“It makes Biden’s position even more difficult,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a veteran Democratic political consultant. “It will create panic among Democrats who are worried about losing younger voters and African Americans who have expressly called for a cease-fire.”

A history of attacks on humanitarian workers

More than 200 aid workers, the vast majority of them Palestinians, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes and gunfire since the war started with Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, U.S. officials say.

Israeli forces have fired on or bombed approved aid convoys, shelters located in designated safe zones, hospitals, and an American aid group’s staff residence.

None of these incidents, though, inspired anything like the Israeli and U.S. government response to the deaths of the World Central Kitchen workers.

The World Center Kitchen team was killed by three missile strikes from an Israeli attack drone while driving on a designated route they had cleared with the Israeli Defense Force.

The Biden administration has decried the ever-mounting civilian and humanitarian deaths in Gaza, where the Hamas-run health ministry says a stunning 32,000 people have been killed, while continuing to supply Israel with arms. Israel blames Hamas for the death toll, saying that it operates and hides in civilian areas.

A ‘glaring’ atrocity

Monday’s strike was different. 

“It was a very quick response,” Tania Hary, executive director of Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, said of Netanyahu’s apology. “I don’t know that they had a choice. It was so glaring.”

“You’ve got humanitarian workers being killed and they worked for an organization run by a very high-profile person,” Jeremy Konyndyk, president of Refugees International, told USA TODAY. ”They finally found a victim they couldn’t blame.”

More: Muslim leader walks out of meeting with Biden in protest of Israel-Hamas war

José Andrés: ‘More of an aid worker than a celebrity’

José Andrés owns more than a dozen restaurants across the U.S., stars in a travel and cooking TV series and has been awarded the National Humanities Medal for the work of World Central Kitchen, which provides food for victims of catastrophes across the globe.

In the cast of globally recognized do-gooders, the Spanish chef is compared with Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafai and climate change activist Greta Thunberg. World Central Kitchen has supplied more than 350 million meals at disaster sites around the world.

More: Who is José Andrés? What is the World Central Kitchen? What to know after deadly airstrike

“In recent years he’s been much more of an aid worker than a celebrity,” said Konyndyk, who served in humanitarian roles in the Biden and Obama administrations. 

It was Andrés’ image as a guardian angel for survivors of war and calamity that forced the U.S. and Israeli governments to speak out, Konyndyk said.

“Jose is a beloved human being,” Vietor said. “He’s well known in Washington, with a direct line to the president.”

‘As if they were being hunted’

Monday’s tragedy underscores months of prior Israeli attacks on humanitarian workers and shows how the U.S. has failed to persuade Israel to ensure the safety of civilians and aid workers, experts said. 

World Central Kitchen said its workers, traveling in three vehicles – two of them clearly marked with the group’s logo – were targeted as they left a warehouse in the central Gaza city of Deir al-Balah after dropping off food that had recently arrived from Cyprus.

Andres told Reuters the attack wasn’t merely a “bad luck situation where, ‘oops,’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place.” 

“Even if we were not in coordination with the IDF, no democratic country and no military can be targeting civilians and humanitarians,” he said.

“It was a series of three attacks in succession,” Hary said. “It was almost as if they were being hunted while they tried to escape.” 

Israel said its forces mistakenly identified the convoy as hostile.

“It’s indicative of a pattern of permissive rules of engagement and a willingness to conduct war in a way that doesn’t protect civilians or humanitarians,” Hary said. 

The only surprise, Konyndyk said, was that Westerners weren’t killed sooner. “Humanitarians have been screaming about this for six months,” he said of the unsafe conditions for aid workers. “It was only a matter of time − and time ran out.”

‘Unconscionable,’ says Cindy McCain

World Central Kitchen suspended its operations in devastated northern Gaza, where the U.N. World Food Program says one out of every three children below the age of two “is now acutely malnourished or ‘wasted.'”

“It’s unconscionable,” WFP Director-General Cindy McCain said on CNN. “This has to stop. We need to get food in, to the north especially, to stave off famine.”

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for an “impartial investigation” into the drone strikes. 

“We shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk,” he added.

White House waits for ‘accountability’

It was unclear whether the deaths of the World Central Kitchen team would impact Israel’s conduct in Gaza or American support for its top Middle East ally. “Whether this has any real effect depends on President Biden,” Konyndyk said.

On Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the administration would monitor Israel’s investigation.

“We need to see what they learn and we need to see, just as importantly, what they do about what they learn − what changes they’re willing to make, what accountability they’re willing to observe,” Kirby told reporters. “We’re just not there yet.”

For now, the attack may have drawn Americans’ attention back to the Gaza war as the conflict approaches its sixth month. 

“Often these things get lost in the news cycle,” said Erick Sanchez, a public relations consultant who volunteered with Andres and World Central Kitchen after Hurricane Ida struck New Orleans in 2021. “When we see tragedy unfolding in his organization, it gives us the ability to see the need to bring peace to innocent civilians.”

Contributing: Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY


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