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Aid Worker tragedy should not be misused

Apr 12, 2024 | Allon Lee

A barge transporting humanitarian aid from the World Central Kitchen organisation off the coast of Gaza (Image: IDF)
A barge transporting humanitarian aid from the World Central Kitchen organisation off the coast of Gaza (Image: IDF)

The Mercury – 12 April 2024

 

Malice or mishap? That is the question being asked about the tragic deaths of Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom and her six World Central Kitchen (WCK) colleagues killed by an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) drone strike in Gaza on April 1.

The needless death of innocents in war is always horrifying. Yet despite Israel immediately accepting responsibility and apologising abjectly, far too many people have tried to leverage this calamity to discredit Israel’s war against Hamas and force it to accept a ceasefire that would effectively leave Hamas in power in Gaza.

Some people are trying to insist – without either credible evidence or credible motive – that the IDF deliberately murdered the aid workers as part of a broader strategy to starve Gazans.

The main “evidence” cited to bolster this conspiracy theory is the claim that the three vehicles must have been easily identifiable because two of them were marked with WCK logos and, anyway, the journey was coordinated with the IDF.

The logo issue is a furphy – the incident happened at night and the only way Israeli forces could see the vehicles was via drones that used thermal imaging, not visual light. The logos would not have been visible.

Furthermore, an independent Israeli investigation led by a retired general concluded that the killings were “a grave mistake” stemming from miscommunication and misidentification, namely a genuine belief by local commanders that Hamas fighters – who had been seen going into a depot with the aid convoy – and not aid workers, were in the vehicles in question. Nonetheless, the investigation found the decision to fire on the convoy was taken in clear violation of standing orders. Two senior officers involved were fired, while three others, including the general in charge of the whole Gaza command, were formally censured.

The starvation theory is also disproven by the fact that recently aid trucks have been entering Gaza in larger numbers than ever – a new post-conflict record of 419 humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza on April 8.

Moreover, according to the IDF, before the incident, there were 6,000 successful and safe “coordination events” with aid organisations, with nothing similar to the WCK convoy tragedy every happening before.

World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres has boasted his organisation alone has delivered 42 million meals in Gaza since October – and Israel is now practically begging WCK to resume aid operations in Gaza in the wake of the convoy tragedy.

The argument this tragic incident shows Israel routinely breaches international law in its war on Hamas, so that war must stop, also requires an outrageous double standard. American, Australian and British forces have all inadvertently killed multiple civilians in misdirected bombings raids in recent conflicts – yet no one demanded they immediately end their missions.

Meanwhile, speaking after the incident, White House National Security Communications Adviser, retired US Navy rear admiral John Kirby, said, “The State Department has… not found any incidents where the Israelis have violated International humanitarian law” over the course of the war.

The reality is Israel has been forced to fight this war in the way it has by a genocidal enemy – Hamas – which cynically embedded its terror infrastructure, tunnel entrances and fighters in Gaza’s residential buildings, mosques, schools, hospitals and clinics, knowing that Israeli military responses would inevitably harm civilians.

Australia’s own top strategic thinker David Kilcullen, architect of the successful troop surge in the Second Iraq War, has confirmed Israel has no alternative to its current tactics, writing, “the only way for Israel to avoid the kind of campaign that is happening now would have been not to go in at all, leaving Hamas in control of Gaza.”

Israel’s Gaza campaign is also not about avenging Hamas’ October 7 crimes, as Greg Barns argued.

Israel was brutally attacked and cannot afford to leave Hamas in control of Gaza. That would embolden it to repeat the torture, rape, kidnappings and mass murders of October 7 “again and again” as it has vowed to do. The right of self-defence allows Israel to fight to secure its citizens’ right to life by acting to prevent Hamas from doing that.

Even Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who insists on an immediate “humanitarian ceasefire”, says that “Hamas has no place in the future of governance of Gaza.” But, like others who pay lip service to this goal, Wong has failed to present any credible plan for how Hamas can be excluded from resuming governance of Gaza, or explain how the 133 Israeli hostages still in Gaza will be freed, if Israel stops the war now.

Moreover, there’s no chance of a Palestinian state ever materialising with Hamas remaining in power in Gaza.

Everyone wants this war to end as soon as possible, but pressuring Israel and not Hamas – which started the war – is a completely short-sighted and unjust way of trying to achieve that aim.

Allon Lee is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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