People gather around the carcass of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike the previous day in Deir Al Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024.
People gather around the carcass of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen, that was hit by an Israeli strike in Deir Al Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

It took last week’s deliberate and horrific killing by Israel of seven international aid workers in Gaza to finally force President Joe Biden to call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and deliver what amounted to an ultimatum: Accept an immediate ceasefire, strike a deal to bring back the hostages and allow humanitarian aid to pour in unconditionally, or face the consequences.

Failing to do so means Israel risks losing US support over its war in Gaza, Biden said in so many words. The same message was echoed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who urged for a swift and impartial investigation into the Israeli strike.

Israel was also rebuked by Britain, Australia, Canada, and Poland, whose nationals were among the victims of the World Central Kitchen relief mission in Gaza. Chef José Andrés, founder of the food charity World Central Kitchen, called out the Israeli military, saying the group was “systematically” targeting “car by car.”

The attack, which Israel said was a “grave mistake,” was not the first of its kind in Gaza. According to the UN, more than 190 aid workers have been killed by Israeli strikes since the war started. The irony is that the great majority of the victims were Palestinians, underlining Western double standards when looking at the death toll in Gaza.

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Israel’s initial findings have been received with scepticism by the US and others. The aid workers had coordinated their travel plans with the Israeli army beforehand. Their vehicles were clearly marked, and they followed an approved route that was under Israeli control. They were hit three times at separate intervals. There is little doubt that the targeting was deliberate.

The charity made headway by delivering almost 200 tons of desperately needed food in northern Gaza that had arrived by sea from Cyprus earlier in March. In two decades, it was the first aid boat to reach famine-stricken northern Gaza. It was followed by a second maritime aid flotilla late last month. Israel had resisted US and international pressure to deliver aid by land to the suffering region where tens of children had died of starvation.

As an immediate response to the fatal attack, World Central Kitchen and its partners suspended their aid relief operations. That was probably what Israel’s strike was designed to achieve. But the attack had backfired. The US reaction was unexpected. Israel was denounced across the globe. The attack represented a tipping point and a crucial juncture in the six-month war.

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Biden had been under pressure for months for failing to force a defiant Netanyahu to abort the planned Rafah invasion

Victim engaged in self defence

Biden had been under pressure for months for failing to force a defiant Netanyahu to abort the planned Rafah invasion and for allowing aid trucks to pass freely through border crossings. Global public opinion and Western media focused on the unfolding dire humanitarian crisis that is affecting 2.1 million Gazans, overshadowing Israel’s portrayal of itself as a victim engaged in self defence.

US mediation to secure a hostage deal had also been derailed by Netanyahu. Biden had become frustrated by the Israeli premier as the Democratic Party became more polarised over Gaza and US public opinion leant towards ending the war.

Israelis and their supporters are appalled to see global sympathy for Israel morph into outright condemnation. After six months of unrelenting bombardment and killing, all the world was seeing was daily evidence of a genocidal war in progress: the civilian victims, the mutilated bodies of children, the blowing up of residential buildings, and the systematic destruction of hospitals, universities, UNRWA storage facilities, mosques, and churches.

This was not a precision war to decapitate Hamas but a carefully executed campaign to flatten the entire enclave. Evidence was piling up incriminating the Israeli army in war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Israel’s free pass to carry out genocide had expired, but not before blemishing Israel, the US, and all those who support it.

The killing of the seven aid workers marked a seminal moment when the world, according to Haaretz, was suffering from “Israel fatigue.” More than 30 US Democratic lawmakers, including the fervently pro-Israel and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, urged President Biden to order a complete halt to the transfer of weapons to Israel. The UK is also considering suspending arms sales to Israel. At the same time, the legal adviser to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has warned that Britain could be breaching international law by selling arms to Israel.

Israel’s loss of its political assets abroad is unprecedented. Netanyahu is also under domestic pressure to secure a hostage exchange deal, while his political rivals are calling on him to accept an early election, which he and his Likud Party are set to lose.

After killing more than 33,000 Palestinians and wounding tens of thousands, Israel is set to face the biggest political defeat in its history. Even presidential hopeful Donald Trump is admitting that Israel has lost the war of public opinion and should wrap up its Gaza operation quickly.

Even so, there are no signs that Israel is close to ending its war on Gaza. Netanyahu remains hopeful that extending the lifespan of the war will keep him in power long enough to evade responsibility for 7 October and final reckoning. Biden is not expected to risk a complete break-up with Israel in a decisive election year.

One hopeful sign in a sea of pessimism is that the world is realising that once the war ends, there will have to be a genuine effort to resolve the Palestinian question by ending Israeli occupation and bringing accountability. But believing so and making it happen are two different things.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.