Israeli police arrest World Vision regional director on charges he funneled 60% of the Christian NGOs funds to Hamas
World Vision has questioned Israeli claims that its relief operations in the Palestinian territories were co-opted by Hamas to fund its war against Israel. However, some Western governments have suspended their support for the Christian NGO following the arrest of one of the organization’s senior official for diverting relief funds to the purchase of arms for the terrorist organization.
On 4 Aug 2016 the NGO, which operates in over one hundred countries, released a statement saying it had seen no evidence to support allegations in an indictment unsealed on 3 Aug 2016 of Mohammed Halabi, its regional director.
“World Vision programs in Gaza have been subject to regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and a broad range of internal controls aimed at ensuring that assets reach their intended beneficiaries and are used in compliance with applicable laws and donor requirements. Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true. We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence. We continue to call for a fair legal process.”
Western governments have reacted to the arrest with concern. On 5 Aug 2016 Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) released a statement saying they were “urgently seeking more information from World Vision and the Israeli authorities” and were “suspending the provision of further funding to World Vision for programs in the Palestinian Territories until the investigation is complete.”
In June 2016 Halabi was arrested by the Shin Bet, Israel’s civilian security agency, at the Erez border crossing into Gaza at the conclusion of a prolonged investigation. He was indicted on 12 security related charges including transferring information to an enemy entity, membership in a terrorist organization, funding of terrorism and contact with an enemy agent. He has been refused bail as a possible flight risk and is in custody awaiting trial.
According to the indictment, Halabi (38) a civil engineer, joined Hamas in 2000 and underwent military and espionage training. In 2004 he was directed by Hamas to join World Vision, and over the years worked his way up through its ranks to become the head of its Gaza aid operations.
Halabi is accused of funneling up to $7.2 million a year, 60% of the humanitarian organization’s Gaza budget, into Hamas’ coffers. The money was used to pay salaries of members of Hamas military wing, buy weapons, build attack tunnels, and prepare for war with Israel. Packages of food, household supplies and relief aid that were to have gone to refugees, were delivered instead to Hamas military brigades.
A spokesman for World Vision said it was “was shocked to learn of these charges” against Halabi.
“World Vision subscribes to the humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality and therefore rejects any involvement in any political, military or terrorist activities and maintains its independence as a humanitarian aid agency committed to serving the poor, especially children. World Vision has detailed procedures and control mechanisms in place to ensure that the funds entrusted to us are spent in accordance with applicable legal requirements and in ways that do not fuel conflict but rather contribute to peace.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, David Keyes, said that “World Vision was hijacked and transformed from an NGO – a non-governmental organization – into an NGW, a nongovernmental war organization.”
This was a “travesty for both Palestinians and Israelis” he told reporters.