Canadian man killed providing aid in Gaza was a military veteran with a young son

Canadian man killed providing aid in Gaza was a military veteran with a young son
THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - World Central Kitchen
Jacob Flickinger is shown in this undated handout photo. Flickinger, 33, was killed along with six other aid workers in the Gaza Strip on Monday. He was a military veteran from Quebec who leaves behind a partner and a one-year-old son.

A Canadian man killed Monday along with six other aid workers in the Gaza Strip was a military veteran from Quebec whose death leaves behind a partner and a one-year-old son.

Jacob Flickinger, 33, joined the World Central Kitchen aid organization last fall at the urging of his good friend Jonathan Duguay. Flickinger had been helping the group in Gaza since early March.

“Jacob was a fantastic guy,” Duguay said in an interview. The two met in 2010 when they were serving together in Afghanistan, he added.

“He was always supportive, always smiling.”

Duguay himself joined World Central Kitchen in September, helping with food aid in Morocco following the devastating earthquake near Marrakesh. In November he convinced Flickinger to come on board.

Their first aid mission was in Mexico, providing food after Hurricane Otis slammed into the Acapulco area as a category five storm.

“We were both diagnosed with PTSD after Afghanistan,” Duguay said. “This (aid work) changed my life, changed our lives. We used our military skills to bring solutions in chaos.”

They travelled to the Middle East in early March, as World Central Kitchen was planning major expansions — including ambitious plans to deliver the first aid to Gaza by sea in more than two decades.

With Israel enforcing strict rules on aid coming in by truck, World Central Kitchen devised a plan to build a makeshift jetty on the northern Gaza coast. They used the rubble of destroyed buildings to build up a small pier, from which pallets of food could be unloaded by a small crane from boats onto waiting trucks.

The first shipment, with about 200 tonnes of food, was sent across on March 15, carrying cans of vegetables and proteins, bags of rice and legumes. The second left Cyprus on Saturday with twice as much aid. Duguay was on the Cyprus side; Flickinger was part of the Gaza relief team.

They spoke multiple times a day by phone or by text. Their last phone conversation, on March 31, was just about normal things, discussing the shipment.

Flickinger wasn’t scared or apprehensive, said Duguay. “He just wanted to help people.”

At 3 a.m. on April 2, Duguay was awakened by his phone ringing. It was another aid worker from Gaza calling to say an “incident” at the warehouse in Deir al-balah in central Gaza had killed seven of their colleagues.

“I knew Jacob was there,” Duguay said.

The convoy had just delivered food to the warehouse and was driving away when the Israeli airstrikes hit — an attack the Israeli government has characterized as a tragic mistake.

Duguay said the teams felt safe because the Israel Defence Force was told of the plan. Israel had approved and provided security for the construction of the jetty, World Central Kitchen said.

“We had an agreement with the IDF,” said Duguay. “There was a special route. They knew where we were.”

It was Duguay who delivered the tragic news by phone to Sandy, Flickinger’s partner, who was at home in Costa Rica with the couple’s baby, whose name the family has chosen to withhold.

Flickinger and Sandy met almost five years ago at a cold water plunge in Quebec. Flickinger is a dual Canadian and American citizen — his father is American and lives in Miami. But Duguay said Flickinger grew up in Saint-Georges, Que., about 100 kilometres south of Quebec City.

“He fell in love immediately,” said Duguay.

Duguay was due to leave Cyprus on April 4 and Flickinger was scheduled to leave not long after. Instead, Duguay flew to Montreal on Tuesday before he heads to Costa Rica to join Sandy and her father.

The Canadian Armed Forces said Wednesday that Flickinger served from 2008 until 2019. He joined as a reserve infantry member with Le Regiment de la Chaudière and was deployed to Afghanistan as a rifleman.

He joined the regular force as infantry with Quebec’s storied Royal 22e Regiment, known as the Van Doos, in 2012. He was a master corporal when he retired from the army in 2019.

Flickinger’s father, John, said in a Facebook post that his son’s death is a “heartbreaking tragedy.”

“My son, Jacob, was killed Monday delivering food aid to starving families in Gaza,” John Flickinger wrote. “He died doing what he loved and serving others through his work with the World Central Kitchen.”

A Go Fund Me page has been started to raise funds for a funeral and a trust fund for Flickinger’s son. Nearly $30,000 had already been raised by Wednesday evening.

Also killed in Monday’s airstrike were Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, 43, from Australia, who shared a video less than a week before she died working at the warehouse near where the convoy was hit.

Polish national Damian Sobol, 35, began volunteering for aid groups when his hometown of Przemysl became a haven for refugees fleeing Russia’s bombing in Ukraine.

Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25, was working for the charity as a driver.

There were also three British military veterans killed, all providing security to to the team, including John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

READ MORE: Bodies of 6 foreign aid workers slain in Israeli strikes are transported out of Gaza

Duguay said he knew both Frankcom and Sobol as well.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called their deaths inadvertent — something that “happens in war,” he said.

Canada is demanding more of an explanation. So are Poland, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

“The world needs very clear answers as to how this happened,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

Foreign Affairs Minister MĂ©lanie Joly, who is in Belgium attending a NATO foreign ministers meeting, said she spoke to Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz on Tuesday night.

“We’re calling for a full investigation,” she said.

On social media, Katz offered condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to their respective countries.

“The incident will be investigated by qualified authorities to ensure that necessary conclusions are drawn to guarantee the safety and security of aid workers going forward,” he said.

In an essay published Wednesday in the New York Times, World Central Kitchen founder JosĂ© AndrĂ©s pleaded with Israel to start the “long journey to peace.”

“We know Israelis. Israelis, in their heart of hearts, know that food is not a weapon of war,” said AndrĂ©s, a celebrity chef from Spain.

“Israel is better than the way this war is being waged. It is better than blocking food and medicine to civilians. It is better than killing aid workers who had co-ordinated their movements with the Israel Defense Forces.”

AndrĂ©s said the deaths of his seven colleagues are “the direct result” of Israeli policy, which “squeezed humanitarian aid to desperate levels.”

Duguay said he plans to help the family with funeral plans, but insisted the tragedy wouldn’t keep him from returning to his job at World Central Kitchen. That’s not what Jacob would have wanted, he said.

“We make a difference to people,” said Duguay. “We need to continue to feed people. That’s my main mission. It was Jacob’s main mission. He was a brother in arms. We were mates. I’m going to miss him.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2024.

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