A Deadly Strike in Gaza

David A. Graham / The Atlantic

Israel faces international condemnation after its forces targeted vehicles from the aid group World Central Kitchen.

Seven people working for a humanitarian aid group led by the chef José Andrés were killed in an Israeli air strike in the central Gaza Strip today. The strike is a black mark for the Israel Defense Forces, and likely to turn world opinion further against the Gaza campaign. But more than its geopolitical significance, the strike is a horrifying moment on a human level. Innocent people, doing good work to feed a starving population, have died for no reason at all.

The group, World Central Kitchen, has been engaged for months in efforts to feed severely malnourished Palestinians in Gaza. WCK said the workers were “traveling in a deconflicted zone in two armored cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle,” and that the strike happened despite the group coordinating its movements with the Israel Defense Forces. Footage shows a puncture directly through the WCK emblem prominently displayed atop a vehicle.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged the strike, which he described as an accident. “Unfortunately, there was a tragic incident in which our forces unintentionally hit innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “As it happens in war, we are investigating the matter fully, we are in contact with the governments, and we will do everything possible to prevent this from happening again.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the trucks were traveling along a route approved by the IDF when they were struck by an Israeli drone. Security forces believed that there was an armed Hamas member in the convoy, but the target was not actually traveling in any of the vehicles at the time of the strike. After each of the first two vehicles was struck, the passengers moved the wounded to a third, before another strike hit that one, killing the seven people. A Haaretz source inside the defense establishment blamed units in the field for acting rashly.

Writing on X, Andrés mourned the deaths: “The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing. It needs to stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon. No more innocent lives lost. Peace starts with our shared humanity. It needs to start now.”

Andrés, a Spanish-born chef, is a fixture in Washington, where his restaurants are critically acclaimed. He has also won praise for his humanitarian work around the world, and shown a willingness to take on governments. As my colleague Hannah Giorgis wrote in 2018, Andrés was an outspoken critic of the U.S. government’s work in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Andrés’s group provided food to displaced Israelis in the weeks after October 7, and has worked in Gaza throughout the conflict. He had previously called for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The deaths are the latest senseless act of violence in a cycle that began with Hamas’s October 7 attacks, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have died in Israel’s campaign in Gaza since. Netanyahu says the operation will destroy Hamas, though many commentators inside and outside of Israel find that goal unrealistic. The IDF has blamed civilian casualties on Hamas, which has intertwined its operations with noncombatants. Many aid workers have died, as well as nearly 100 members of the media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Criticism of Israel has mounted over the past few months, not only among typical critics but also from the United States and other allies. “In Gaza, Israel has shown itself willing to cause heavy civilian casualties and unwilling to care for a population left without basic necessities for survival,” the novelist and veteran Phil Klay wrote in The Atlantic last week. Yesterday, disturbing images of the aftermath of IDF operations at a hospital in Gaza produced outrage. Israel said the site was being used as a Hamas base.

But the deaths of foreign nationals and aid workers tend to draw particular notice, and remonstration, from overseas governments and populations. The dead in this strike reportedly include an Australian, a Pole, and a Briton. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called the killing of WCK’s Lalzawmi Frankcom “completely unacceptable.” British Foreign Minister David Cameron described the strike as “deeply distressing.” It’s impossible to argue with that.