The Central World Cuisine Let it serve Gaza. He paid with his life.

Saifeddin Abutaha, an aid worker at World Central Kitchen, was returning home to see his mother when an Israeli missile hit the car he was driving in an aid convoy last week.

Mr Abutaha, 25, adored his parents and often texted them as he delivered aid across the Gaza Strip, which is on the brink of famine after six months of war. In his final hours, he had oscillated between food delivery and Ramadan family planning, his brother, Abdul Raziq Abutaha, said in an interview.

But since his death on April 1, their mother, Inshirah – who once daydreamed of seeing Saifeddin get married – has been unable to accept his passing.

“He still hasn't eaten anything since he died,” said Abdul Raziq, 33. He said she keeps saying, “'He will be back soon, maybe for Eid'” – the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. It starts on Wednesday. Saif won't be there.

The killing of seven World Central Kitchen employees in Israel's April 1 attack sparked international outrage, especially from the countries where six of them came from: Britain, Poland, Australia, Canada and the United States.

Mr Abutaha, a Palestinian from Gaza, also died in the attack. His death highlighted the sad fact that, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, most of the more than 200 aid workers who have been killed since Israel's bombing of Gaza began were Palestinians. Last week he called for an independent investigation into each of their deaths, which have attracted less attention than the killing of foreign aid workers.

Saifeddin Abutaha, in a photo provided by World Central Kitchen.Credit…Central World Cuisine, via Associated Press

Palestinian workers form the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza, as do local employees in any war or disaster zone where humanitarian groups operate. They provide vital connections and field expertise to foreign staff members who are unfamiliar with the area and enable them to implement relief projects and communicate with the people they are serving.

Mr. Abutaha worked for World Central Kitchen as a driver and translator, helping staff navigate the bureaucracy, political climate and city streets of the places where he grew up and where he provided critical aid until the missile attack . His affiliation with a well-known and well-organized group brought with it something unusual in Gaza these days, his family said: a semblance of security.

“We never, ever thought Saif would be shot or killed,” Abdul Raziq said last week. “This is an international humanitarian group that has had very high coordination with Israel and its army.”

Such coordination did not protect Mr. Abutaha and his colleagues. An internal investigation by the Israeli military concluded that their killings were a “serious mistake” caused by a series of failures and broken protocols, and found that officers had ordered the attacks on the humanitarian convoy partly on the basis of insufficient and incorrect evidence that a passenger in one of the cars was armed.

Israel said several soldiers involved in the attack had been reprimanded or fired.

But José Andrés, the high-profile celebrity chef who founded World Central Kitchen, called for an independent investigation. In an interview on ABC's “This Week” on Sunday, he said that “the perpetrator cannot investigate himself.”

“Obviously this was targeted,” Andrés said of the killings, which were carried out by three separate attacks, one after the other, targeting three vehicles carrying the workers. “We could argue that the first one, let's say, was a mistake. The second one? The third?”

According to Israeli authorities, Israel began its military campaign in Gaza after an October 7 Hamas-led attack killed around 1,200 people near the border. Israel says its goal is to destroy the group.

But while the war has so far killed more than 33,000 people in Gaza, according to local health officials, Hamas has not been destroyed. Its most senior leaders are still alive, its fighters remain active and it has regrouped in parts of Gaza.

Abdul Raziq Abutaha said that before the war began his younger brother was ready for the brightest future any young man could hope for in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a punishing Egyptian and Israeli blockade since Hamas took power there in 2007.

Saif attended Ajman University in the United Arab Emirates, Abdul Raziq said, and worked in the United Arab Emirates until his father asked him to return home in 2020. He wanted Saif to help run the company family, a mill.

But running the mill became impossible during the war, after Israeli attacks destroyed much of Gaza's civilian infrastructure and left the company without basic raw materials such as electricity or flour.

One day, however, World Central Kitchen staff members visited the family's warehouse and liked what they saw. They chose the site as their headquarters in Gaza after coordinating with the Israeli army, Abdul Raziq said.

The aid workers began living in an apartment inside the factory and soon they and the family became close, sharing meals and bonding over the traumas of war.

“We loved them and they loved us,” Abdul Raziq said.

The World Central Kitchen staff asked Saif to translate for them during a meeting, so they hired him as their driver and translator. He and the foreign staff members quickly became inseparable, his sister Amani said in an interview with Al-Ghad TV, an Arabic-language channel.

“He was always with foreigners, translating for them, and going to collect aid,” he said. “Because he lived in Gaza and knew the streets of Gaza well, he was a driver.”

Abdul Raziq said his brother was “delighted” to have found a job helping war victims, and that their family found a blessing of sorts in the fact that “he died in the line of duty feeding the poor and to the hungry” during the sacred month. of Ramadan.

On the day of Saif's death, the small World Central kitchen team had left their facility in the southern Gaza Strip and traveled north, Abdul Raziq said. Saif checked in with his family during the day; her sister, Amani, said her last exchange with him occurred at 4pm, when Saif sent her a selfie he took while she waited for a cargo ship to arrive.

“I told him to take care of himself and may God protect him,” she said. “He replied, 'I'm counting on God.' I didn't know that God would soon take it all.”

Saif also texted Abdul Raziq to say he was going home to prepare for the next day's Ramadan fast with his mother. Then he sent one last message to his mother, asking: “Have you gone to sleep yet, my mother?”

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