Gaza refugee camp kitchen co-run by Singapore charity hit, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Gaza refugee camp kitchen co-run by Singapore charity hit

When he was informed that a reported Israeli air strike killed nine people working in a Gazan kitchen jointly run by the charitable organisation he founded, Singaporean Gilbert Goh’s heart sank.

The 62-year-old, who is behind Love Aid Singapore, has been working to raise funds for kitchens operating in the Jabalia and Rafah refugee camps since January, working in tandem with the International Relief Organisation (IRO), which ran them.

These kitchens prepared hot meals for displaced Palestinians, but after the air strike on Jabalia camp on March 2, their activities have been put on hold.

Mr Goh told The Straits Times in a phone call from Cairo on March 4 that he was devastated when he received the news the previous day.

“This is the first time that I’ve been involved in a humanitarian mission where the people I work with have been killed,” he said. “It’s been a huge shock. You just don’t expect the people you work with to die, even though I know this is the kind of thing that will happen in a war.”

Mr Goh, who has been in Cairo since Jan 6 to help facilitate the transport of aid into Gaza, has been raising funds to help Palestinians affected by Israel’s military campaign in response to a surprise attack by Hamas militants on Oct 7.

The incursion by Hamas killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures. More than 250 were also taken hostage, with over 100 of them still unaccounted for. Meanwhile, Israel’s retaliation has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, based on the Gazan health ministry’s tally.

As at March 2, Love Aid Singapore has raised $1 million, which goes to the various Gaza-related projects the charity is involved in.

Besides the kitchens, the money has been used to provide financial assistance to some 400 orphans, as well as to fund the construction of solar panels at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in north Gaza, which currently has no electricity, among other projects.

In Jabalia camp, Love Aid Singapore is involved in the running of three kitchens. Two provide vegetarian meals and are mobile, while the other one, which is static, has meat in its menu.

Speaking to ST through an interpreter, Mr Mamdooh Badawi, the chairman of the IRO and whose family is from Gaza, said the tragedy left him filled with guilt.

“I feel that I am the reason they died. The team cautioned against setting up a static kitchen because staying in one place would make it a target.

“But I insisted on it being at a fixed location, even though they didn’t want it there,” he said, adding that the plan is to rebuild the kitchen, but have it function as a mobile one. He did not have a timeline yet, however, as his team is still sourcing for equipment.

A March 3 report by Xinhua said 10 Palestinians were killed in Jabalia during an overnight air strike on March 2, citing local sources. They were killed after an air strike that targeted an inhabited house near a UNRWA school sheltering those displaced.

In an Instagram post on March 4, Mr Goh also said he did not know the deceased personally, but “felt a kinship with them, as we were all working together for a common cause”.

He told ST that IRO and Love Aid Singapore are working out some form of compensation for the victims’ families. A sum of about US$1,000 ($1,343) for each of them is being considered.

A 2022 report by the United States State Department said the average daily wage in the Gaza Strip was US$13.

While the amount of compensation may seem high in comparison, Mr Goh said: “It’s not enough. It will never be enough to replace their loved ones’ lives, even if it might help them tide over this period of time for now.”