US charity demands probe into killing of Gaza aid worker

Mousa Shawwa was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Deir al-Balah on 8 March. (Courtesy of Anera)

Mousa Shawwa, the Gaza logistics and support coordinator for Anera, a US charity providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians, was killed in an Israeli strike on Deir al-Balah on 8 March.

Shawwa had just returned from distributing humanitarian aid and was still wearing his Anera jacket when the shelter in central Gaza where he was staying with his extended family was hit, according to the charity.

Some 30 to 50 people were killed in the attack.

“His wife and two of his children suffered moderate injuries,” Anera stated. “His youngest son, 6-year-old Karim, is in critical condition.”

Anera said that Karim had been evacuated to Egypt for treatment after the intervention of “25 people across six countries, including a minister, an ambassador, a CEO, a general, several doctors, friends from the UAE, and 10 Anera employees,” underscoring the difficulty for Palestinians in Gaza to access urgently needed medical care.

But the intervention was not enough to save the child’s life and Karim Shawwa succumbed to his injuries days later, Anera announced on 19 March.

Shawwa was killed and his son fatally injured shortly after Joe Biden announced during his State of the Union address that the US military would build a temporary port on Gaza’s coast for the delivery of humanitarian aid by sea.

During that same speech, the US president warned Israel that “humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” even though his spokespersons have tacitly endorsed the use of urgently needed aid as a form of leverage in negotiations with Hamas.

Anera said that it had given the Israeli military the coordinates of the shelter where Shawwa and his family were staying, as well as those of its office and distribution center locations, on multiple occasions, including days before the strike that killed the father of three.

Hundreds of humanitarians killed

Karim Shawwa, critically injured in the Israeli attack that killed his father. (Courtesy of Anera)

Shawwa is not the first humanitarian worker killed during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, where the International Court of Justice said in an interim ruling that there is a plausible risk of genocide.

Among the more than 31,000 Palestinians killed since 7 October were hundreds of humanitarian personnel: 165 UN staff, around 350 health workers, 48 civil defense workers and 14 staff belonging to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

Anera said that the attack that killed Shawwa is an “undeniable case of deconfliction not working and it threatens our team’s ability to keep functioning.”

That may have been the purpose of the Israeli attack. On 13 March, the military hit one of the few remaining distribution centers operated by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, after having been provided the coordinates of the facility the previous day.

At least one UNRWA employee was among the five people killed in Wednesday’s strike, which injured another 22 people at the agency’s food distribution center in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israel claimed that Muhammad Abu Hasna, who it said was a Hamas fighter, was killed in the strike. According to Reuters, citing a statement from Hamas, the Palestinian faction said “Abu Hasna was a member of its police force and condemned his killing as a ‘cowardly assassination’ meant to disrupt aid distribution.”

Israel’s targeting and killing around a dozen Palestinian police officers guarding humanitarian aid envoys has forced UN agencies and other organizations to suspend aid missions due to security concerns.

UNRWA, which has the largest humanitarian footprint in Gaza, said that more than 150 of its facilities have been hit since 7 October and more than 400 people were “killed while seeking shelter under the UN flag.”

“War against aid workers”

Israeli forces have also repeatedly fired on Palestinians gathered to receive desperately needed food aid, particularly in northern Gaza, which has been mostly cut off from assistance that is brought in from the south.

Dozens of Palestinians were killed while attempting to access aid in two separate incidents in Gaza on Thursday.

Two weeks earlier, at least 118 Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces opened fire toward hundreds of people attempting to access aid from trucks near Gaza City.

UNRWA aid convoys have also been hit by Israeli fire as part of what author Tariq Kenney-Shawa describes as an unprecedented “declared war against aid workers.”

The UN agency’s staff have “reportedly been mistreated and humiliated” in Israeli detention. UNRWA employees released from detention say they were “pressured by Israeli authorities into falsely stating that the agency has Hamas links and that staff took part” in the 7 October attacks, according to Reuters, citing an unpublished report from the agency.

Israel’s allies have dealt what may be a death blow to UNRWA – which provides government-like services to millions of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria – by freezing funding following unverified allegations that a handful of its Gaza staff were involved in the 7 October raid led by Hamas.

The Times of Israel reported on Monday that the attempt to discredit UNRWA is part of an Israeli plan to “dismantle the UN agency … and replace it with an alternative.”

“Constantly under threat”

Following Israel’s attack on the UNRWA food distribution center on Wednesday, Martin Griffiths, the UN relief chief, asked: “How are we to maintain aid operations when our teams and supplies are constantly under threat?”

Anera likewise asked after the killing of Mousa Shawwa: “If Israel continues to target humanitarian workers, who is going to be left in Gaza to distribute the aid that President Biden is promising?”

A suspension of operations by Anera in the wake of the deadly attack on its staff would mean the loss of a lifeline for Palestinians enduring deliberately inflicted “conditions of life calculated to bring about [their] physical destruction in whole or in part,” as the Genocide Convention states.

Anera said it has provided more than 20 million meals, including in northern Gaza, and more than 3 million medical treatments in the territory since 7 October, as well as “essential water and shelter supplies.”

“Anera has been the key ‘boots on the ground,’ ‘last-mile’ delivery partner in Gaza for more than 40 other organizations since the war’s onset,” the organization added.

Deep worry

Anera said that Shawwa, the slain logistics coordinator, lived in Gaza City before he and his family were forced to evacuate to Deir al-Balah in central Gaza.

An employee of 15 years who started out as a driver and custodian, Shawwa “was instrumental in getting aid delivered to where and whom it was needed most,” Anera said.

“He was a problem-solver and a humanitarian who believed deeply in Anera’s mission,” the organization added.

Sean Carroll, Anera’s president and CEO, told The Electronic Intifada that in recent months, Shawwa had “worked with three other colleagues to ensure food was delivered in the Deir al-Balah area.”

“This included overseeing our tekias (community kitchens) there and handing out vegetable baskets,” Carroll added. “He was also responsible for securing needed logistical support for our operations, including transportation, communications and shelter.”

Carroll said that “the killing of our beloved longtime colleague has cast a pall over our work.”

“Our team members in Gaza are deeply worried about the safety of their families and themselves and fear that their humanitarian work could put them in even greater risk, beyond the already universal danger confronting civilians in Gaza,” Carroll added.

Calls for investigations and sanctions

Anera is one of 25 humanitarian and human rights groups that wrote a letter to Biden on Tuesday stating that he is violating US law by providing military aid to Israel while it obstructs the delivery of US aid to Gaza.

American law bans assistance to countries that prohibit or restrict the delivery of humanitarian assistance provided by the US. But the Biden administration will not say whether it is formally assessing whether Israel is in compliance with US law.

Patrick Leahy, a former senator, has said that Israel is violating US statutes bearing his name that bar aid to military units that carry out gross violations of human rights.

A handful of sitting senators, including Bernie Sanders, Chris Van Hollen and Elizbath Warren, wrote a letter to Biden on Monday stating that “the Netanyahu government’s interference in US humanitarian operations” violates domestic law.

“The United States should not provide military assistance to any country that interferes with US humanitarian assistance,” the senators said.

“Safe zone” hit

Medical Aid for Palestinians and the International Rescue Committee – UK and US charities, respectively – have called on the governments of those countries to undertake “a full, independent and timebound investigation” into a near-fatal Israeli airstrike on 18 January.

That strike in the supposed al-Mawasi “safe zone” hit “a residential compound housing our Emergency Medical Team (EMT) and members of MAP’s local team and their family members,” the two organizations said.

“An independent multi-agency investigation by the UN carried out on 19 January found that it had most likely involved a GBU32 (MK83) missile package,” MAP and IRC added.

“This 1,000 lb. US-manufactured ‘smart bomb’ was fired from an F16 jet. F16s are manufactured in the US and include parts supplied by the UK.”

Several people were injured in the strike, which “caused significant damage to the building,” MAP and IRC said. The coordinates of the compound had been provided to the Israeli military “through the UN deconfliction process, which is supposed to provide additional protection for humanitarian personnel in Gaza.”

The two organizations said that the Israeli authorities “have provided six different explanations as to why the airstrike took place,” highlighting “a continued lack of transparency regarding what occurred” and indicating an inability or unwillingness to investigate.

“As current suppliers of arms and munitions to Israel, governments such as the UK and the US have a particular responsibility to hold Israel accountable for this and other attacks on aid workers and civilians,” MAP and IRC said.

Washington is obligated to undertake an investigation into the strike that killed Shawwa, according to Anera’s Sean Carroll, who was the chief of staff of the State Department agency USAID during the Obama administration.

An investigation is imperative, Carroll said, “particularly given the preponderance of US-supplied weaponry in the Israeli arsenal and the likelihood that US weapons have been used in other attacks on humanitarian organizations and their staff.”

This story was updated after initial publication to reflect that Karim Shawwa died from his injuries.




Perhaps ANERA and UNRWA should cease sharing co-ordinates with the IOF. Random chance of bombing might give better odds of surviving.

Add new comment

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.