World Central Kitchen will resume aid work in Gaza on Monday

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Three days after an emotional ceremony at Washington National Cathedral in which World Central Kitchen celebrated the seven workers killed in an Israeli airstrike, the organization announced it would resume operations in Gaza, where more than 1 million Palestinians face catastrophic levels of hunger.

In an announcement sent to the media Sunday, WCK said it will resume humanitarian work Monday with a “Palestinian team delivering food to address wide-spread hunger, including in the north.” It was not clear whether WCK would continue to allow staff and outside contractors to enter Gaza as part of its renewed operations.

“The majority of our Gaza operation has always been Palestinians feeding Palestinians,” said Linda Roth, chief communications officer for WCK, when asked by The Washington Post. “Our model, as you know, is one of community engagement. We have hundreds of Palestinians employed as contractors and hundreds more volunteering. They want to get back to work.”

Late on April 1, an Israeli airstrike hit a WCK convoy, killing all seven people inside three vehicles, two of which were armored. Among those killed were four members of WCK’s relief team: Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, a 43-year-old Australian; Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, a 25-year-old Palestinian; Damian Soból, a 35-year-old from Poland; and Jacob Flickinger, a 33-year-old dual U.S.-Canadian citizen. The other three victims — John Chapman, 57; James Henderson, 33; and James Kirby, 47 — were British nationals contracted to WCK’s security team.

The killings received worldwide condemnation, including from President Biden. “I am outraged and heartbroken by the deaths of seven humanitarian workers from World Central Kitchen,” Biden said in a statement at the time. “… They were providing food to hungry civilians in the middle of a war. They were brave and selfless. Their deaths are a tragedy.”

In an April 6 interview with Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week,” World Central Kitchen founder and celebrity chef José Andrés said: “I will have to live with this the rest of my life. We will all have to live with this the rest of our lives.”

The organization said that, before April 1, it had distributed more than 43 million meals in Gaza, accounting for 62 percent of all international nongovernmental organization aid.

Before suspending its operations for four weeks following the deaths, WCK had established 68 community kitchens in Gaza, including two high-production facilities, one in Rafah in the south and the other in Deir al-Balah in the central part of the territory. When it resumes operations, WCK will open a third high-production kitchen in honor of Soból. Located in Mawasi on the southern coast of Gaza, the facility will be called “Damian’s Kitchen,” WCK said in its announcement.

Soból “was pure joy for everyone who knew him,” an emotional Andrés said during the funeral ceremony Thursday.

At the ceremony, Andrés also implied WCK’s possible return to Gaza. “That’s what we do at World Central Kitchen: We stand next to communities as they feed themselves, nourish themselves, heal themselves,” his prepared remarks said. “People don’t want our pity; they want our respect. … The only way to show respect is facing the mayhem alongside them.”

“We remind them that they are not alone in the darkness,” Andrés added.

Anera, another aid group that had stopped operations in Gaza after the killing of the WCK workers, resumed its aid work there on April 11.

According to its statement Sunday, WCK has 276 trucks ready to enter Gaza; the organization said the trucks were carrying the equivalent of 8 million meals. The group said it will continue to explore the use of a maritime corridor that WCK established this year, with a makeshift jetty created out of wartime rubble. The organization is looking to send more food and goods via boats with the help of Open Arms, a Spanish humanitarian group, and the United Arab Emirates.

Even as its resumes operations, WCK continues to call for an independent, third-party investigation of the Israel Defense Forces’ attack on the humanitarian convoy.

Four days after the attack, Israel’s military released the results of its internal investigation. It said the attack was a “serious violation” of its policies — the result of “errors” — and was “contrary” to military procedures. It said two officers would be dismissed and commanders reprimanded, but made no mention of legal actions such as prosecutions. World Central Kitchen responded by saying that the IDF “cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza.”

In its announcement Sunday, Erin Gore, WCK’s chief executive, said: “We have been forced to make a decision: Stop feeding altogether during one of the worst hunger crises ever, ending our operation that accounted for 62 percent of all International NGO aid. Or keep feeding knowing that aid, aid workers and civilians are being intimidated and killed.”

“These are the hardest conversations, and we have considered all perspectives when deliberating,” Gore added. “Ultimately, we decided we must keep feeding, continuing our mission of showing up to provide food to people during the toughest of times.”

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