What does an ‘investigation’ into World Central Kitchen workers’ deaths really mean?

Katie Hawkinson reports on the international calls for an ‘investigation’ into the killings — and what happened 21 years ago when Israel investigated itself in similar circumstances

Wednesday 03 April 2024 22:08 BST
The Independent’s Andrew Feinberg challenges John Kirby on deaths of foreign aid workers

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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On Wednesday morning, celebrity chef José Andrés shared a heartwrenching message mourning the aid workers from his organization killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

“I wish I never founded [World Central Kitchen],” Andrés wrote of his non-profit humanitarian aid group. His post features a video of Zomi Frankcom, one of seven World Central Kitchen workers killed in a series of three missile strikes by the IDF. The airstrikes came even after the organisation coordinated their movements with the IDF and marked their cars with logos.

Among those killed by the IDF included American-Canadian Jacob Flickinger, a husband and father to a one-year-old boy. President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the deaths.

“Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers,” Biden said. He called on Israel to conduct a “thorough” and “swift” investigation. Representatives for the White House and National Security Council also both told reporters on Wednesday the administration is waiting on the results of “an investigation” to respond further.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat, similarly called for the strikes to be “thoroughly investigated.” Other leading Democrats have remained largely silent.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, has said nothing about the deaths on Twitter/X or on his official press page. Instead, the Democratic leader simply reposted a poll demonstrating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unpopularity among Israelis. Senate Foreign Affairs Chairman Ben Cardin has also been silent on the deaths on both Twitter/X and on his official website.

Jacob Flickinger, pictured, was killed in a missile strike by the IDF while providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians with World Central Kitchen
Jacob Flickinger, pictured, was killed in a missile strike by the IDF while providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians with World Central Kitchen (WORLD CENTRAL KITCHEN/AFP via Getty)

Biden isn’t the only world leader calling for an investigation. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has urged Netanyahu to conduct “a thorough, transparent investigation” while ensuring future humanitarian workers can distribute aid into Gaza unhindered and unharmed. His statement came after World Central Kitchen said three of those killed were British citizens.

But neither of these world leaders have gone into detail about what they want this investigation to look like. They also have not called for any sort of independent investigation. For many, allowing Israel alone to look into its own wrongdoings is not enough.

A preliminary investigation has revealed the aid workers’ deaths were a “mistake”, IDF Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi said on Wednesday.

“It was a mistake that followed a misidentification – at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened,” he said in a video. He gave no details on the specific errors that led to the workers being targeted — and no details on whether those responsible for such a “mistake” would be held accountable.

In 2003, American citizen Rachel Corrie was in Gaza protesting the destruction of Palestinian property by the IDF. A 60-ton bulldozer operated by the IDF crushed her as she protested. She died some 20 minutes later.

Corrie’s parents told The Independent in a 2023 interview that they have fought for years to secure accountability for her death. Israeli officials rejected responsibility, and a judge cleared the driver of the IDF vehicle after he testified he could not see Corrie. An activist who witnessed Corrie’s death said she was wearing a florescent jacket and was “clearly” visible.

“As the ground continued to move, Rachel went down on her knees. The bulldozer continued to move forward. Rachel began to become buried beneath the dirt. Still it did not stop,” the activist, Greg Schnabel — also an American — said.

“All of this has to be recognized, and amongst all this violence now what I think we’re witnessing is the killing of hope, and hope is what you have that’s the first thing you need to survive,” Corrie’s father, Craig, told The Independent last year. Twenty-one years since Rachel’s death, there have been no meaningful developments. Israel considers the case closed.

World leaders’ vague demands for a “thorough” internal investigation into the World Central Kitchens’ deaths risk leading to the same non-outcome. It remains unclear what holding the IDF accountable looks like.

Aid worker killed in Gaza speaks to The Independent's Bel Trew weeks before airstrike

“I think the most pressing thing for the families, for the survivors, is to not have that pain felt by another family,” Craig Corrie said in 2023. Now, seven families face the same pain as they did — and the world waits to see what the called-for “investigations” will entail.

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