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The lives of other aid workers killed in Gaza : NPR

NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with Juliette Touma, director of communications for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, about some of the hundreds of aid workers killed in Gaza.



ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Over six months of war in Gaza, around 200 aid workers have been killed. Few of them have received as much attention as the seven employees of World Central Kitchen, who died in targeted Israeli airstrikes this week. To hear about the stories behind some of the others, we’re joined by Juliette Touma. She is director of communications for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, also known as UNRWA. And she’s speaking with us from Amman, Jordan. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JULIETTE TOUMA: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Of the roughly 200 aid workers who have died in the war, more than 175 of them worked for your organization. Were any of these people who you knew personally?

TOUMA: Yes. One hundred and seventy-seven of our colleagues have been killed since the war began in Gaza. Several of them were killed in the line of duty, including two recently when the Israeli forces attacked a warehouse that UNRWA runs where we store food supplies and other medical supplies. There was one girl, in fact – and I say girl because she was in her early 20s. And she was killed early on. Her name is Mai. And Mai was killed with members of her family. She was a software developer that worked for UNRWA. And I met her, and in fact, I interviewed her for a short clip that we did about that project that UNRWA was supporting young people to have jobs and work in tech.

SHAPIRO: Let’s listen to a little clip of that video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MAI: I’m a Palestinian refugee. My family is originally from Preya (ph). I worked on many projects, such as the UN Partner Portal, which is a platform to connect the UN agencies with the partners around the world. It makes me free to do a lot of things and to support my loved ones.

SHAPIRO: A hundred seventy-seven of your colleagues is such a staggering number. I mean, that’s several per week. How has it felt over the last six months to see these reports come in of people you work with dying, in some cases, while they were working?

TOUMA: It is, on average, once a day. We get what I call – I know it sounds horrible, but I call it the death list, which is literally an Excel sheet with names and ages and details about those colleagues of ours. And it’s quite bone-chilling to get that almost every day. And, you know, every time I open it, it’s just dreadful because these are not just numbers. It’s not just a list. It’s colleagues of ours. It’s doctors and teachers and engineers and web developers and pharmacists and drivers and people who did staff safety. And it happened everywhere. It happened in the north, in the south, in the middle areas. Nowhere is safe in Gaza. No one is safe, including aid workers.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think the aid workers who have been killed throughout this conflict have received so much less attention than the seven with World Central Kitchen?

TOUMA: It’s a very good question. I mean, we’ve been talking about our colleagues who were killed since we started getting that information and verifying it, probably on the 12 or the 13 of October, when we had confirmation that nine of our colleagues were killed. And for us at UNRWA back then, that was already a very high number. This is by far the highest number of UN aid workers killed in any conflict, in any natural disaster, the highest since the UN started working just after the Second World War.

SHAPIRO: Do you have any idea about why the international community has mobilized and activated in response to the killings of the seven World Central Kitchen workers in a way that, until now, they hadn’t for the aid workers who were killed?

TOUMA: I wish I knew. What I do know is that every life lost of any civilian in Gaza is alive and is a soul, is a story, is a dream shattered. It’s a life cut short prematurely. It comes as this war has taken with it tens of thousands of children, the highest number of journalists, of medical workers. So every life, including the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, should count. The number of people killed so far, reported killed – I know it’s not verified. And there is a whole debate over these figures. The number is staggering. It should shake all of us.

SHAPIRO: Juliette Touma is communications director for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Thank you so much.

TOUMA: Thanks for having me, Ari.

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