Canadian who died providing aid in Gaza was a military veteran with a young son

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Published on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 3:01 pmEDT

Last updated Wednesday, April 3, 2024 6:38 pmEDT

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

Jacob Flickinger, 33, joined World Central Kitchen Aid 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 while serving together in Afghanistan, he added.

“He always supported me, always smiled.”

Duguay himself joined World Central Kitchen in September, helping with food aid in Morocco following the devastating earthquake near Marrakech. In November he convinced Flickinger to join the team.

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

“We were both diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after Afghanistan,” Duguay said. “This (help work) changed my life, it changed our lives. “We use our military skills to find solutions in chaos.”

They traveled 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.

While Israel enforced strict rules on aid arriving by truck, World Central Kitchen came up with a plan to build a makeshift jetty on the northern coast of Gaza. They used the rubble of the destroyed buildings to build a small dock, from which pallets of food could be unloaded by small crane from the ships to waiting trucks.

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

They spoke several times a day by phone or text message. Their last phone conversation, on March 31, was about normal things, discussing shipping.

Flickinger was not scared or apprehensive, Duguay said. “He just wanted to help people.”

At 3 a.m. on April 2, Duguay woke up when his phone rang. He was another Gaza aid worker calling to say that an “incident” at the Deir al-balah warehouse in central Gaza had killed seven of his colleagues.

“I knew Jacob was there,” Duguay said.

The convoy had just delivered food to the warehouse and was moving away when the Israeli airstrikes arrived, an attack that the Israeli government has called a tragic mistake.

Duguay said the teams felt safe because the Israel Defense Forces were informed of the plan. Israel had approved and provided security for the construction of the pier, World Central Kitchen said.

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

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

Flickinger and Sandy met almost five years ago on a cold-water swim in Quebec. Flickinger has dual Canadian and American citizenship: her father is American and lives in Miami. But Duguay said Flickinger grew up in Saint-Georges, Quebec, about 100 kilometers south of Quebec City.

“He fell in love immediately,” Duguay said.

Duguay was due to leave Cyprus on April 4 and Flickinger was due to leave shortly after. Instead, Duguay flew to Montreal on Tuesday before heading to Costa Rica to meet with Sandy and her father.

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

He joined the regular force as infantry with the historic Royal Quebec Regiment 22e, known as 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 on Monday while delivering food aid to starving families in Gaza,” wrote John Flickinger. “He died doing what he loved and serving others through his work at World Central Kitchen.”

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

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

Polish citizen Damian Sobol, 35, began volunteering with aid groups when his hometown of Przemysl became a refuge for refugees fleeing Russian bombings in Ukraine.

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

Three British military veterans, all providing security for the team, also died, including John Chapman, 57, James Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47.

Duguay said he also knew both Frankcom and Sobol.

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

Canada demands more explanations. So are Poland, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

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

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, who is in Belgium to attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, said she spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Tuesday evening.

“We call for a full investigation,” he said.

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

“The incident will be investigated by qualified authorities to ensure that the necessary conclusions are drawn to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers in the future,” he said.

In an essay published Wednesday in the New York Times, World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés pleaded with Israel to begin the “long journey toward peace.”

“We know the Israelis. Israelis, deep in their hearts, know that food is not a weapon of war,” said Andrés, a famous Spanish chef.

“Israel is better than the way this war is being fought. It is better than blocking the supply of food and medicine to civilians. “It is better than killing humanitarian workers who had coordinated their movements with the Israel Defense Forces.”

Andrés said the death of his seven colleagues is “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 would not prevent him from returning to his job at World Central Kitchen. That’s not what Jacob would have wanted, he said.

“We make a difference for people,” Duguay said. “We need to continue feeding people. That is my main mission. It was Jacob’s main mission. He was a brother in arms. We were companions. I’ll miss him”.

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

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