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Op-Ed: A Global Tragedy Hits Home

World Central Kitchen food pantry on Roosevelt Avenue from June 2020. Source: World Central Kitchen Facebook

Apr. 8, 2024 By Council Member Shekar Krishnan

Four years ago we had to face our darkest days. Our community of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst became the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Long food lines, blaring ambulances, and sheer desperation filled our reality. It was at that moment that the workers of the World Central Kitchen burst into our community like a ray of light.

Workers like Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom came to our community to distribute free meals and set up food pantries for New Yorkers in our moment of need. Wearing t-shirts with a green globe logo, World Central Kitchen brought relief and hope to our community that desperately needed it.

Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom. Courtesy of World Central Kitchen

Last week, I saw an image of that same green logo – a symbol of resilience and our common humanity for so many here in Jackson Heights – atop the mangled remains of the World Central Kitchen vehicles struck by Israeli bombs in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Forces have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians since October 7, including more than 13,000 children. Gaza is on the brink of famine. And seven World Central Kitchen workers, including Zomi, are dead, blown up while delivering food to starving families.

This has to stop. There must be an immediate, permanent ceasefire and a release of all hostages. If we truly believe every human life is precious, which I do, this is the only way forward.

There is no equivocation that the barbaric attack by Hamas terrorists against innocent Israelis – the murder of more than a thousand on October 7 and the taking of hundreds of hostages – was appalling and must be condemned. New Yorkers and their families are still waiting in great pain for word about their loved ones who remain in captivity.

Yet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown that for the sake of staying in power, he will destroy hospitals and schools, bomb as many innocent Palestinians as his government can, and starve the rest. He has also shown that he will even target the humanitarian workers who attempt to bring aid to the desperate. The senseless killing of everyone from children to Israeli hostages to aid workers shocks the conscience, and it cannot continue.

As a New York City Council Member, I know well the limits of my ability to affect foreign policy and global conflict. I can’t convene oversight hearings of federal agencies. I can’t vote on authorizations to send weapons overseas. I can’t broker peace agreements between nations. My work is focused on the critical issues we face here in New York City. From policies on feeding hungry children, to assisting seniors seeking housing, to funding emergency services at public hospitals, there are many vital and essential decisions that my position requires. Decisions that directly impact my community. I’ve hesitated to speak on issues outside of that responsibility because I wanted to be focused and consistent. Frankly, I’ve struggled with how best to balance the competing demands of meeting local needs and addressing international events.

I recognize that in a diverse, immigrant community like mine, to comment on one terrible conflict overseas invites requests to comment on many others. Constituents have called on me to condemn the Modi government’s Hindu nationalism in India. Tibetan neighbors have urged me to denounce China’s occupation of their homeland. Burmese neighbors have pleaded with me to issue a statement against the junta. The spiraling violence in Haiti is heartbreaking. And as I work to serve the everyday needs of my constituents in Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, I don’t believe a tweet or hashtag does justice to the most difficult foreign policy crises around the world, or move us closer to their resolution.

This conflict does, however, continue to draw closer and closer to home. With the mounting deaths of so many New Yorkers’ loved ones, after months of siege and starvation, after seeing aid blocked and aid workers, including one who served our community, killed in Gaza, this war tears at the fabric of civilization.

The interconnected nature of our world today means that international events, no matter how distant, can be felt in our community. Our shared humanity requires that we remain engaged with the world beyond our borders. Violence, death, and destruction won’t deliver a better world. Only peace can do that.

*Council Member Shekar Krishnan is a member of the New York City Council for the 25th district, which covers the northwestern Queens neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, parts of East Elmhurst, and Woodside.

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