27
Mon, May

The Faces of the Murdered: Courageous Heroes of the World Central Kitchen

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Somehow when it’s just numbers spewed by a perfectly coiffed news anchor or included in a few inches of print below the fold, death and injuries wreaked by American-supplied Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are nothing more than that – numbers. 

Even though those numbers keep growing and growing, six months after the devastating attack on three military bases and three Israeli settlements near the Gaza border at dawn during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah killed 413 people, including 78 children, while 253 others were kidnapped.  

That was a truly horrible event.  

But in an ultimate case of overkill, the number of Palestinians killed in Netanyahu’s over-the-top retaliation has now surpassed 30,000 with more than twice that number wounded, and most of the territory's 2.3 million residents have been driven from their homes. 

Not to mention the loss of at least 196 humanitarian workers in Gaza since Israel went on the offensive. Now including seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen (WCK) murdered in an Israeli airstrike on the last day of March. 

WCK’s founder said on ABC: “... this hits home because, that’s people I served next to, and they’re an example of who we are. And that they put themselves in harm’s way to try to bring hope… to others.”

 

Laura Pauli, a San Francisco-based chef gave a shout out to WCK for its mission of feeding people in need, and to humanitarian workers everywhere, those who feel the calling to “run into the fire rather than away from it, to help those who need it most.” 

It’s not the numbers, it’s the human stories that engage us: the personal, the profound expressions from the heart of those left behind on individuals who risked their lives to help others. 

Reminisces by friends and family about those seven souls who were delivering food to starving Palestinians in Gaza allow their humanity and simple heroism to shine through, and elevate them above all the politicians and their self-serving pronouncements. 

Australian Lalzawmi "Zomi" Frankcom was a manager and relief lead for World Central Kitchen. Leaving a career in banking and finance, her strong sense of social justice took her all over the world. When she was visiting Guatemala in 2018 and the Fuego volcano erupted killing hundreds and displacing thousands, Zomi volunteered with WCK to help feed the survivors.  

That led to her helping people devastated by Hurricane Michael in the United States, then refugees from brush fires in her homeland. When a Navajo reservation in Arizona was reeling with one of the highest Covid death rates in the world, she organized a locally-led team to deliver food to families who were completely cut off. 

A former colleague, Nate Mook, had this to say about Zomi’s relationship to one survivor: “She didn’t just hand out the food, but she sat down with her, comforted her, and listened to this woman’s story. She just enveloped the people she was helping with love. Everyone adored her.” 

Zomi organized delivery of hundreds of thousands of meals to hospitals in India during the Covid Delta surge, and coordinated meals in Poland and Romania for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. 

Teresa Grey of Mobile Medics International honored her friend’s commitment to others: “that was what Zomi did; she went where help was needed, making sure the vulnerable got fed, that people felt loved and cared for, and that she was a beacon of hope for the hopeless.” 

Pauli described Polish citizen Damian Sobol who had worked alongside her in Ukraine after the Russian invasion as: “Kind. A protector. A person determined to do good.” 

Wojciech Bakun, mayor of Sobol’s hometown of Przemyśl in south-eastern Poland posted on social media: “There are no words to describe the feelings of people who knew this amazing young man right now... May he rest in peace.” 

A dual citizen of Canada and the United States, Jacob Flickinger had 11 years experience in the Canadian armed forces, and had previously worked with WCK in Mexico. He went to Gaza in March wanting to help others. His Québecoise mother called him “such a good human being… extremely devoted to his work and his family”; his American father described his son’s job as marrying “his love for adventure and his desire to serve and help others.”  

Jacob and partner Sandy Leclerc had recently relocated to Costa Rica with their 18-month old son. 

James Kirby, a British citizen, worked for Solace Global, a U.K.-based security firm. Their mission was to protect people and assets worldwide. Kirby, who had served military tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, was using his experience in conflict zones to safeguard WCK’s personnel as they provided humanitarian aid in Gaza. 

His family said he would be “remembered as a hero,” that he “was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone, even in the face of senseless violence.” A cousin told the BBC that Kirby was “completely selfless” and "just wanted to help people,” which is why he had gone to Gaza because, “despite the risks, his compassionate nature drove him to offer assistance to those in dire need.” 

Also from Solace Global was James Henderson, who had served in Britain's Royal Marines before moving into civilian work. A close friend told the widely read Daily Mail: “Everybody is gutted, he was a lovely lad. He hadn’t been out there long, only a couple of weeks.” 

His brother expressed his anger at the British government that he doesn’t believe will hold the guilty accountable, and that it will continue to “sell weapons to Israel, which may in turn be used to kill our fellow citizens. It’s hard to comprehend that.” 

The third of WCK’s Solace Global-provided security team was Royal Navy Special Forces veteran John Chapman who was extolled by family members for “trying to help people… loved by many and will for ever be a hero. He will be missed dearly.”  

Friends described him as a “brilliant bloke” and called his death a “huge loss for his family, his friends and for the veteran community.” 

Chapman and his mates were as much victims of the genocide in Gaza as the people WCK was trying to help. 

Their sole Palestinian worker, Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha had worked for WCK as a driver and translator since the beginning of the year. He was describe by one of his brothers as a “dedicated young man” and, by a cousin as eager to “do good things” and to help his fellow Palestinians.  

Another brother described Abutaha’s excitement about getting to unload the desperately needed food; it was “like they were going to a wedding.” Last Tuesday family and friends had to bury him in his home town of Rafah in southern Gaza. 

The bodies of the other dead foreign aid workers were transported first to Rafah and then on to Egypt en route to their home countries. 

CEO Erin Gore posted this on WCK’s website:  

“These 7 beautiful souls were killed by the IDF in a strike as they were returning from a full day's mission. Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories. And we have countless memories of them giving their best selves to the world. We are reeling from our loss. The world's loss.”  

The aid workers were traveling on a road designated by Israel as a safe humanitarian route in two armored cars and one unreinforced vehicle when a military attack involving multiple drone strikes targeted them. All three vehicles were branded with the WCK logo, and the Israeli forces knew they were carrying civilians.  

Despite being in touch with the IDF throughout, the convoy was hit leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza by ship. Not only were the vehicles attacked by Israeli-operated drones but, according to information released by Flickinger’s parents, “they continued firing until all the workers were dead.”  

“Outraged” (President Biden) or “appalled” (British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak) does not change the policies of the countries propping up Netanyahu’s genocidal government. 

Intentional or otherwise, these murders of innocents who selflessly volunteered to assist those caught up in horrific violence and oppressive circumstances is part of a humanitarian disaster created by Netanyahu’s choices and in violation of international law. 

Despite statements by Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, the military's chief of staff that “It was a mistake that… shouldn't have happened” and Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari that “it shouldn’t have happened” – it did happen. Is there some sort of echo chamber around Netanyahu talking points? 

And, no, it shouldn’t have happened. 

Reprimands and removals of a few officers doesn’t cut it. Stopping this bloody war would. 

Immediate withdrawal of the IDF from both Gaza and the West Bank to be replaced with U.N. peacekeepers to help transition these devastated areas to the point that effective negotiations for the future of Palestinians can commence would be a start for honoring the WCK dead and for all those who went before them. 

After-the-fact excuses and hand-wringing can’t breathe life back into the dead, not the seven WCK workers nor the tens of thousands of Palestinians who had nothing to do with the Hamas attack on October 7. When, ironically, WCK was lauded for its succor of injured and displaced Israelis. 

Celebrity chef José Andrés established WCK after helping feed displaced families in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where he learned the importance of human interaction. 

“It wasn’t just about feeding people in need – it was about listening, learning, and cooking side by side with the people impacted by the crisis. This is the real meaning of comfort food, and it’s the core value that José, along with his wife Patricia, used at the center of founding World Central Kitchen.” 

Media reports on Netanyahu’s offensive must stop being all about numbers and more about the human beings behind them. To stop killing our heroes, the world must stop the slaughter.  

Last Wednesday, Andrés posted on social media: “Dear Zomi I have no words ... but I promise you, your spirit will always be with us.” 

If you wish to make a donation to WCK.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)