Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

When helpers become victims

1 Comment


The death of seven aid workers in Gaza on 4 April is a stark reminder that in war few are safe, even those who are there simply to provide humanitarian and medical support to a population struggling to survive. At what point does the global community say enough is enough?

Few could deny the horrors of the conflict in Gaza. We've all seen the footage, whether uncensored via social media or sanitised for polite viewing on the nightly news. The level of destruction in this current conflict is akin to what we witnessed during the wars in Iraq and Syria. The images of destroyed homes, hospitals and town centres can, counter-intuitively, act as a distraction from the human cost of this conflict: the tens of thousands of Palestinians that have been killed, with the majority of the population being displaced from their homes and close to starvation.

The war between Israel and Hamas continues to rain misery upon a people desperate to see an end to this conflict. The barbarity and cruelty of war continues with little regard for the wellbeing of the estimated two million civilians caught up in it.

But sometimes there is an event so abhorrent and so stark in its futility that no amount of excuses, propaganda, misinformation or disinformation will satisfy a weary global community becoming ever more angered by the egregious actions of combatants. The death of seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen, including Australian Zomi Frankcom from a missile attack by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) on 4 April may be a watershed moment where the world says enough is enough.

Global reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement that the killings were unintended and tragic but that this happens in war, has been rejected by most world leaders, including our own Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. Albanese, like the leaders of the other countries whose citizens were killed by the IDF are demanding a proper investigation into these deaths, even after the Israeli government announced the sackings of two military personnel and the reprimand of others.

There have been growing concerns from the international community, including the UN secretary general, António Guterres, that Netanyahu’s goal of wiping out Hamas is leading to actions by the IDF which are disproportionately endangering the lives of the civilian population in Gaza, and by extension anybody working to assist them in providing humanitarian or medical relief.

For those who reject such assertions, or instead promote the well-trodden axiom that there is always collateral damage in war, they may wish to consider some data produced by the group Humanitarian Outcomes, who run the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) funded by USAID.


'It is time that the international community take its duty to protect the lives of the innocent seriously and ensure that events such as those which led to the death of Zomi and her compatriots is never allowed to happen again.'


The AWSD is a global compilation of reports on major security incidents involving deliberate acts of violence affecting humanitarian workers. The database captures the number of deaths, injuries and kidnappings of humanitarian workers across the globe dating back to 1997. Over that period of time there have been 7472 recorded incidents involving humanitarian workers, and  2687 deaths, amounting to 36 per cent of the recorded incidents. A similar number of humanitarian workers, some 2768, have been injured, while 2017 were kidnapped. These numbers do not include the thousands of humanitarian workers who have died or been injured as a result of illness, disease, natural disasters, or poor transportation infrastructure.

Since the conflict in Gaza began in October 2023, the AWSD has recorded 288 incidents involving humanitarian workers. Of concern is that 75 per cent of these incidents were the recorded deaths of humanitarian workers. By way of comparison, for the near two decades of the conflict in Afghanistan, the number of humanitarian workers killed totalled 484, which was 36 per cent of all recorded incidents in that conflict.

The idea that the killing of humanitarian workers is somehow an acceptable by-product of this current conflict, or that this happens in war is repugnant. The protection of the innocent civilian population and those who offer them support should be the highest priority of the Israeli and Hamas leadership. There is a moral and legal duty upon the actors in this conflict to protect those who are providing vital services to a population under siege.

These humanitarian workers are entitled to protection, even if that may mean some military actions are delayed or abandoned.

To the family and friends of Zomi Frankcom and the hundreds of other aid workers killed and injured in this conflict, I offer my deepest sympathies. Zomi, like the tens of thousands of other humanitarian workers and community volunteers should be venerated for their selfless actions in supporting people in their time of greatest need. Their contribution to the wellbeing of humanity should never be allowed to be diminished by those who view their deaths as the collateral damage of war. We owe at least that much to people like Zomi who died in the act of caring for others.

It is time that the international community take its duty to protect the lives of the innocent seriously and ensure that events such as those which led to the death of Zomi and her compatriots is never allowed to happen again.




Joe Zabar has worked in overseas development and humanitarian relief for more than 20 years and was a former executive of Care Australia. He is the current Chair of Mercy Works Limited.

Topic tags: Joe Zabar, Gaza, IDF, Aid, Humanitarian, WCK, Civilians



submit a comment

Existing comments

Aid workers who enter a war zone in order to help innocent victims of war show bravery and heart above and beyond the call of ‘duty’. Every life lost in a war is of inestimable value. The Israeli-Hamas conflict is difficult and heart-breaking to watch and the international community, I believe, is working to the best of its often limited ability to end the war. It is a complex and thorny situation with a number of countries directly involved. It is right to raise our voices in support of those who risk their lives to help others and that protest can touch hardened hearts.

Pam | 18 April 2024  

Thank you Joe.
Netanyahu's denial seems to be a deliberate prevarication. The aid workers were a nuisance to his objective to wipe out the population of Gaza. Any prospect of reconstruction, relief, a two state solution are not on his radar.
With 800 homes built by Jewish settlers in the West Bank (protected by the IDF) and the destruction of almost every building in Gaza, the Palestinian territory has become uninhabitable.
He is empire building like Putin.
Now the brigade left behind will hinder rebuilding the Arafat runways, hinder the US and Australian efforts to build a decent pier on the Gaza coast with the Med and always blame Hamas.
If anyone has any doubts about Netanyahu's commitment to democracy then ask why is he providing weapons, aid, training to the TMD in Myanmar (along with China and Russia) to oppress the civilian population which so far has cost 50,000 civilian lives.
Gaza needs its own water, renewable power, serviceable runways. It does not need gunboat coercion from a recalcitrant, well armed bully next door.

Francis Armstrong | 24 April 2024  

Similar Articles

When war becomes personal

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 10 April 2024

Our attitudes to war change drastically when it becomes personal. The killing of Zomi Frankcom, together with other members of the Charity organisation World Central Kitchen, made the war between Israel and Hamas personal. It has led many people to see the destruction of Gaza and its people as not only regrettable but intolerable.


Kate Middleton and the end of all boundaries

  • Laura Kings
  • 08 April 2024

In a world where the public appetite for private news on public figures is insatiable, how do we foster ethical media behaviour that respects privacy and dignity in situations like this? Would well-wishes for Kate's recovery, even before her diagnosis was public, have been too much to ask?