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Dad mourns son killed by an Israeli airstrike against World Central Kitchen convoy

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

World Central Kitchen is now calling for an independent, third-party investigation into the Israeli airstrikes that killed seven of its aid workers earlier this week. The vehicles in the three-car convoy for the prominent food charity were clearly marked when they were struck. These deaths add to the mounting death toll of aid workers in Gaza, now upward of 200 people. Israel says the attacks, which have sparked international outrage, including from the U.S., were mistakes. Among those killed was humanitarian Jacob Flickinger, a 33-year-old U.S. Canadian citizen. And he was the only son to John Flickinger, who joins us now.

John, my deepest condolences for your loss. We appreciate you coming on the program to speak to our listeners.

JOHN FLICKINGER: Thank you, Leila. And I appreciate the opportunity to honor our son.

FADEL: I want to ask you about Jacob. Getting that call - I can't imagine - that he was killed in Gaza on a mission to feed people. Today was the day he was supposed to come home. Why did he choose to make that journey and go to Gaza?

FLICKINGER: Well, Jacob has always lived a life of service. He served in the Canadian military for over a decade. He volunteered to serve in Afghanistan because he was horrified by what was happening to women, among other reasons. And, you know, when we discussed his decision or when he was considering it, he just said, dad, you know, people are starving, you know, and I can help.

FADEL: That must have been hard for you. This is your only son. He's going to a really dangerous place. He's a new dad himself. Did you guys talk about it? Did you ever think about talking him out of it?

FLICKINGER: Well, that's a long story (laughter). Yes, I tried to talk him out of his military service - or talk him out of going to Afghanistan way back then.

FADEL: Wow.

FLICKINGER: He resented that a little bit because - saying I didn't really support him. So this time around, he's a man. He's a father. You know, I talked to him about the risks, the dangers. It's a chaotic situation, you'll be in a war zone, etc. He was aware, he was clear-eyed, and he felt reasonably - you know, as confident as you could be in Gaza at this moment. He was operating primarily in a deconflicted zone that was controlled by Israel. The World Central Kitchen has never lost any of their workers since they opened their doors. They're very professional. They knew what they were doing. They've been operating in the area on both sides - both in Israel after the Hamas attack, which was horrific, and then in Gaza. I think they were the main provider of food aid in Gaza until they suspended operations after this incident.

FADEL: Now, Israel says the killings were an accident and a military investigation was concluded today. And in it, the investigation found, quote, that they were convinced - that those that were involved "were convinced that they were targeting armed Hamas operatives" and not World Central Kitchen employees. Two officers have been dismissed as a result of that investigation, two reprimanded. As Jacob's dad, what do you make of the investigation from Israel and do you consider it independent?

FLICKINGER: I don't consider it independent. I think we do need an independent investigation. If it was a mistake, it's not the first mistake the IDF has made. There have been over 200, as you mentioned, aid workers killed by the IDF since operations began, many in deconflicted zones. We were in constant communication - or he was, the convoy and WCK, was in constant communication with the IDF. They knew exactly where they were. They had just offloaded a highly publicized shipment of food aid to the warehouse. They were attacked right outside the warehouse, a kilometer or two on a road that was designated by Israel as a safe humanitarian route. The trucks were clearly marked. I mean, people can draw their own conclusions, but I don't think it was a mistake.

FADEL: Now, your son is Canadian, but he's also American. And many people are calling his killing and the killing of his six colleagues a turning point in this war. President Biden said he was outraged by the attack and has now told Israel's prime minister that U.S. policy in Gaza would be dictated by how Israel deals with the harm and suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Your son's American. Does the U.S. response give you any solace, and what do you make of the response?

FLICKINGER: Well, I support President Biden's attempts to have Israel act according to international law in this situation. But he's been saying this for a few weeks now, and we just completed a shipment this week of - another round of shipments of arms to Israel. So I think Israel, Netanyahu is obviously disregarding President Biden's advice and the world's - not listening to the world's outcry. So I think the U.S. has the leverage to, you know, put their feet to the fire. Suspend any further shipment of arms, suspend aid to Israel until they can conduct their operations in a manner where civilians, innocent women and children, aren't being starved to death and slaughtered wholesale.

FADEL: When was the last time you were in contact with Jacob?

FLICKINGER: We texted throughout his stay there. But Easter Sunday, I sent him a Easter Sunday message, as did his mother, Sylvia Labrecque. We both stayed in contact with him. You know, he wrote back, he said he was fine. And we were always checking in. He'd always check back.

FADEL: Yeah.

FLICKINGER: And he was excited. He missed his son. He loved his son so much (crying). Sorry.

FADEL: I'm so sorry.

FLICKINGER: And he was - you know, they were going to reassess, you know, the mission, I guess, today. And this weekend, he was going to redeploy to Cairo. And then, you know, all indications were that he was coming home. I think some British staff had come in, and I think he was going to be replaced and be coming home.

FADEL: Now, his son is 18 months, is that right?

FLICKINGER: Yes, yeah. He's beautiful. His son's name is Jasper.

FADEL: What will you tell Jasper about his dad?

FLICKINGER: I'll tell him his dad was an amazing human being, a hero in the eyes of many - that he loved him deeply and he had a huge heart. He was a brave soul. He was always ready and willing and wanted to help others. And, you know, he put himself in harm's way to help feed, you know, starving women and children, so that he should be very proud of his father.

FADEL: John Flickinger is the father of Jacob Flickinger, one of the World Central Kitchen aid workers who was killed this week in Gaza. John, thank you so much for telling us about Jacob. And again, I'm so sorry for your loss.

FLICKINGER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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