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“A War Machine Out of Control”: Israel Keeps Attacking Aid Workers as Gaza Faces Famine

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Image Credit: World Central Kitchen

We speak with Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, about Israel’s ongoing attacks against aid workers in the Gaza Strip. Israel has admitted it killed seven volunteers with World Central Kitchen on Monday after repeatedly bombing their clearly marked vehicle convoy, leading the humanitarian relief group to suspend its operations in Gaza and further restricting distribution of badly needed food amid a growing famine in the territory. Other aid groups have followed suit, citing the lack of safety. This comes after Israel had earlier banned UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, from bringing aid into northern Gaza, where the need is greatest. Egeland says even Israel’s international backers need to rein in “a war machine out of control” that is causing so much death and destruction. “If you have a conflict where there is a world record in killing protected categories of personnel, then the law is broken to pieces. There’s no other way to see it.” He also calls for an end to international arms sales to Israel and resumed funding and support for UNRWA.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Israel is facing global condemnation over the killing of seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen who had brought food into Gaza by ship to feed starving Palestinians. The aid workers were killed when an Israeli drone fired three missiles at the group’s clearly marked convoy, even though the charity had coordinated the convoy’s route with the Israeli military. At the United Nations, Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the Israeli attack.

SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES: The devastating Israeli airstrikes that killed World Central Kitchen personnel yesterday bring the number of aid workers killed in this conflict to 196, including more than 175 members of our own U.N. staff. This is unconscionable, but it is an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted.

AMY GOODMAN: The killed aid workers included three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen and a Palestinian. In a video address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed Israel attacked the convoy.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Unfortunately, in the last day there was a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip. This happens in wartime. We are thoroughly looking into it, are in contact with the foreign governments of those killed, and will do everything to ensure it does not happen again.

AMY GOODMAN: “This happens in wartime.” Meanwhile, President Biden said he was, quote, “outraged and heartbroken” over the deaths, but at a White House press briefing, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby refused to say if Israel had broken international law.

NIALL STANAGE: Is firing a missile at people delivering food and killing them not a violation of international humanitarian law?

JOHN KIRBY: Well, the Israelis have already admitted that this was a mistake that they made. They’re doing an investigation. They’ll get to the bottom of this. Let’s not get ahead of that. … The State Department has a process in place. And to date, as you and I are speaking, they have not found any incidents where the Israelis have violated international humanitarian law.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen and at least two other groups said they would pause operations in Gaza after the attack. Meanwhile, HuffPost reports a group of U.S. officials at USAID have privately warned the Biden administration the spread of hunger and malnutrition in Gaza is unprecedented in modern history and that parts of Gaza are already experiencing famine.

For more, we go to Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to us from Oslo, Norway.

Jan, thanks for joining us again. Can you start off by responding to the Israeli airstrike on the three-car convoy that killed seven international aid workers?

JAN EGELAND: It was horrific. And remember, this was targeted. It was repeated attacks — first one car, then the next car, then the third car, and a couple of the cars were targeted several times. It’s not likely that the Israelis wanted to kill the colleagues from World Central Kitchen. World Central Kitchen had worked closely with the Israeli forces to get out support to Palestinians in northern Gaza. But they surely hit cars that they did not know what was inside. And that’s the story of this war.

So, when the State Department is saying, “We cannot see any violations of humanitarian law,” they haven’t read the humanitarian law, because there has to be precaution, there has to be distinction between military and civilians, and there has to be proportionality. And after thousands of dead children, thousands of dead women — all completely innocent of the 7th of October — hundreds of doctors, hundreds of nurses, hundreds of teachers and 200 humanitarian workers, before the international workers were killed, it’s very clear that this has been a disproportionate response to what happened, the horrors of the 7th of October, in violation of international law, every day, basically, since mid-October.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jan Egeland, in that vein, I’d like to ask you — excuse me — about a recent report in The Observer over the weekend, in England, that a member of Parliament, Alicia Kearns, a Conservative Party member and the chair of the House of Commons select committee, was at a fundraiser, and there was a leaked tape of her remarks there. And she said, in that leaked tape, that the British Foreign Office has received official legal advice that Israel has broken international humanitarian law, but that the government has not announced it and has kept it quiet. I’m wondering, especially in view of the fact that three British nationals were killed in this latest attack, your response to the fact that the British government is hiding the fact its own lawyers have said Israel is violating international law.

JAN EGELAND: Well, I just met Alicia Kearns in London, and she’s a very fine politician. She went to Rafah. She saw all of the trucks that were lining up, not able to go into Gaza. She wrote letters about that to both the U.K. government, and she approached the Israelis. I mean, she is really engaged on this, as so many others have become as they see the injustice in what’s happening to the population of Gaza. Whether the U.K. government is concealing advice on this, I cannot say. But the facts speak for themselves. If you have a conflict where there is a world record in killing protected categories of personnel, then the law is broken, you know, to pieces. There’s no other way to see it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a tweet where you said, “The US, the UN, the EU and the rest of the world agree that we are at the brink of famine in Northern Gaza. Still, only 159 trucks were allowed into Gaza yesterday and Israel blocks all food convoys from UNRWA to reach North Gaza. There must be accountability for this.” Then you go on in another tweet to say, “The horrific, targeted, repeated attack that killed 7 WCK aid workers follow nearly 200 Palestinian humanitarians killed by Israel’s military campaign. Now — FINALLY — Western govts providing arms to the killing say 'enough.' … Immediate ceasefire ending the killing of civilians–A protection scheme that guarantees safety for humanitarian work–Opening of land crossings for massive aid to the North–ending chaotic air & sea delivery–No military invasion of the world’s largest refugee camp: Rafah.” You tweeted that.

In the United States, President Biden talked about being heartbroken, but, as The New York Times reports, Biden administration is pressing Congress on $18 billion sale of F-15 jets to Israel. This follows the deal made with F-35 jets and many 2,000-pound bombs and 500-pound bombs. Can you respond to the U.S. and other countries supplying these weapons at this point to Israel?

JAN EGELAND: Well, my own country, Norway, a NATO country, has refrained from sending arms to Israel for quite some time. So has many other countries. It is really mind-boggling if the U.S. now sends these large bombs, that are by nature indiscriminate, to a place with so many thousands of dead children. Are they not thinking of the consequences for their moral authority in the rest of the world? What does this mean for the West’s arguments in Ukraine? If it is wrong, as it is, for Russia to occupy Ukrainian territory, kill Ukrainian civilians, target Ukrainian infrastructure, how could it possibly be correct when the Israelis do the same to the Palestinians, and with U.S. arms?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jan Egeland, I’d like to ask you, the — your organization, like others, that provide assistance in Gaza, have to coordinate your activities, obviously, with the Israeli military. What does this latest attack mean for those future efforts, when, clearly, even organizations that coordinate closely with the military so that they’re not attacked end up being still attacked?

JAN EGELAND: Well, we have coordinated with Israel now for many years. I was myself in Gaza to travel to Rafah and traveled around in Rafah. And we sought permission, as we have to, by Israel. Israel controls everything going in and everyone going into Gaza. And we also coordinated my movements there. Nothing happened to me. Nothing really has happened to our NRC convoys, aid operations. But we are largely in the southern third of Gaza, where the majority of the Palestinians are.

I think the whole thing shows the horrific killing of seven of my colleagues in the World Central Kitchen, that I know well. I saw their good operations. I ate one of their meals when I was in Rafah. It was a very good meal. And the Palestinians, whom they feed millions of meals every day, rely on this. I think what’s happened will lead to a reboot of the system for protection for humanitarian work. The U.S., U.K., Germany and others cannot live with a war machine out of control that is sort of targeting cars without knowing what’s inside, as they did in this case and in multiple other cases. So I think there will be a new and better deconfliction or notification system, coordination system — there are many names for them — even in the northern parts of Gaza, where it has been most dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: The World Central Kitchen boat still had 240 tons of food on board the boat. It left Gaza Tuesday. The WCK says they’re suspending operations. Other groups say that. What about the Norwegian Refugee Council? And can you talk about this in conjunction with the defunding of UNRWA, the kind of umbrella that facilitates all of this, what this means as the region descends, the Strip descends into famine?

JAN EGELAND: Yeah, the World Central Kitchen is withdrawing. So are some other groups, which is terrible, because they were important for our collected efforts to avoid famine in Gaza. NRC, my own Norwegian Refugee Council, we are not leaving. We are continuing to work today and tomorrow. We have, however, suspended some of our movements, and we’re not going north for the time being, because it’s considered too difficult, too dangerous. Israel is not allowing conditions for that. And it’s in the north, the remaining population there, that is engulfed in the worst famine.

UNRWA is the backbone, really, of social services for the Palestinians. It was created by the United States and the other original members of the United Nations when Israel was created and it led to the Nakba and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees. UNRWA was created by all of us to take care of the Palestinians that were suffering because of the Holocaust in Europe and the creation of Israel. Since then, UNRWA has become essential in Gaza. They are much bigger than all of the others combined — NRC, the other U.N. agencies, World Central Kitchen, etc., etc., etc. We’re not even half of what UNRWA is. So, when the U.S. Congress and the Biden administration says, “We’re not going to give you money,” and so are — so was a number of other donors, because of allegations — no evidence provided — allegations that some of these 13,000 staff, a dozen, dirty dozen, perhaps participated in the horrors of the 7th of October, you can’t believe that our very own donors make it difficult for us to help the Palestinian population. UNRWA is essential. UNRWA needs to be funded. Stop the games with politicizing aid to children.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the U.S. should stop weapons sales and weapons transfers to Israel?

JAN EGELAND: I cannot see any nation giving arms to any war where there are these kind of casualties among children, women, aid workers, journalists. Colleagues of you, Amy, are killed en masse in Gaza. No, yeah, of course they shouldn’t give arms to that. They could have their fingerprints all over a crime scene.

AMY GOODMAN: Jan Egeland, we want to thank you for being with us, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Next up, we look at a new Israeli law which Prime Minister Netanyahu says he will use to ban Al Jazeera. Stay with us.

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Israel Moves to Ban Al Jazeera in Latest Attack on Journalists Who Expose Horrors of War & Occupation

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