What is World Central Kitchen, whose team was attacked by Israel in Gaza?

The NGO has provided food aid in some of the world’s biggest disasters and conflicts, from Haiti to Ukraine.

Seven workers from the relief group World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed in central Gaza in a “targeted attack” by Israeli forces that has drawn global condemnation and forced the charity to suspend operations in the region.

WCK said its team members came from Australia, Palestine, Poland and the United Kingdom. One was a dual citizen of the United States and Canada.

“This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war,” CEO Erin Gore said in a statement. “This is unforgivable.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the air strike as “unintended” and “tragic”.

“These things happen in wartime,” Netanyahu said, adding that an investigation was under way. Officials are “checking this thoroughly” and “will do everything for this not to happen again”.

Israel has routinely obstructed and severely restricted the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip and its forces have opened fire on Palestinians waiting in line for food and other essential supplies.


What is WCK?

WCK is a United States-based nonprofit that focuses on feeding people during conflicts and major disasters across the world, often as first responders.

It was founded in 2010 by Spanish-American Michelin-starred chef Jose Andres and his wife Patricia Fernandez de la Cruz.

The couple started the group after Andres visited Haiti following the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 250,000 people and left more than a million homeless. He worked with local chefs to cook and distribute food, setting up local kitchens there as well as cooking meals alongside displaced people in camps.

He has won several humanitarian awards for his work, including the National Humanities Medal awarded by then-US President Barack Obama in 2015.

“The Israeli government needs to stop this indiscriminate killing,” the chef posted on X after the attack in Gaza.

“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.”

Where and how does WCK work?

The group focuses on getting hot meals to people in conflicts and crises such as earthquakes, hurricanes and climate change, while working primarily with local chefs, as well as building food systems, training cooks and supporting farmers.

After the Haiti earthquake, it expanded to working around the world, including in the US, Latin America and Europe, and says it has served 350 million meals since it started operations.

It has delivered food for communities hit by natural disasters, refugees at the US border, healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and people caught up in conflict in Ukraine and Gaza.

The charity was on the ground after Hurricane Harvey hit the US city of Houston in 2017, and a month later after Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, WCK served millions of meals to refugees, starting from people fleeing across the Polish border. Founder Andres, alongside chefs from neighbouring countries including Romania, Hungary and Moldova, prepared the meals.

This year, WCK responded to the wildfires in Chile in February, as well as the Japan earthquake in January that killed more than 160 people. It has worked in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Zambia, Peru, Cuba, Uganda, The Bahamas and Cambodia.

WCK is funded mainly through contributions and grants. In 2021, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos gave Andres $100m. In 2022, WCK reported more than $500m in contributions and grants.

What was WCK doing in Gaza?

WCK was already working with local chefs to deliver food in Rafah, in southern Gaza, where some 1.5 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. The team also responded to people affected by the spiralling crisis on the Israel-Lebanon border, as well as in Israel.

The charity says it delivered 32 million meals in Gaza by March.

In early March, WCK provided 200 tonnes of flour, rice and other food aid to the Spanish nonprofit Open Arms whose ship tested a maritime supply route for the first time from Cyprus to Gaza. A second ship left Cyprus on Saturday, carrying 332 tonnes of food sourced by WCK.

“We need to double down on efforts to get aid to Gaza,” said Cyprus’s President Nikos Christodoulides, whose country opened the only maritime corridor to ship humanitarian relief into Gaza and described WCK as a “crucial partner” in this operation.

Cyprus’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Theodoros Gotsis said 90 tonnes of aid were unloaded before WCK suspended operations and about 220 tonnes will be turned back.

Has WCK been attacked before?

On June 2, 2023, a WCK volunteer identified only as Igor, was killed in the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv by a Russian missile attack. The charity said that its volunteer chefs Sardor and Viktoria were killed in July 2022, also in strikes on Kharkiv.

Source: Al Jazeera