An Israeli court has convicted a World Vision employee of funding the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.
Mohammad El Halabi was director of the ministry’s Gaza opertions. He was arrested in 2016 after being accused by Israel’s Shin Bet security service of funneling tens of millions of dollars to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
After six years, 160 court sessions dozens of witnesses and mountains of documentation, the district court in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba found Halabi guilty on all but one of the terrorism charges against him. The conviction included membership in a terrorist organization, financing terrorist activities, and having “transmitted information to the enemy,” It also included possession of a weapon. The Beersheva District Court found he actively worked embezzling tens of millions of dollars and funneling it to Hamas which is responsible for thousands of Israeli deaths over two decades.
READ: What you need to know about the Israel, Hamas conflict
World Vision defended Halabi in a statement saying it more evidence was required.
The UN’s Human Rights Office, which according to critics takes the side of Hamas over Israel, agreed with World Vision, expressing “serious concerns” over the proceedings, and alleging there was a “lack of evidence.”.
El Halabi, however, made a confession in prison which has, for security reasons, not been made public according to the Israeli court.
“In our view there have been irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive, publicly available evidence,” the World Vision statement reads. “We support Mohammad’s intent to appeal the decision, and call for a fair and transparent appeal process based on the facts of the case.”
El Halabi was arrested on June 15, 2016, and later accused of diverting over $50 million in donated funds meant for World Vision work to intended to Hamas terrorists.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza strip, is listed as a terrorist organization by Western governments including the European Union, the United States, Australia, Japan and Israel. It has launched hundreds of rocket attacks against Israel over the last two years and is responsible for sending individual terrorists into Israel to execute attacks on civilians.
Kevin Jenkins, who served as World Vision International CEO at the time, pushed back on the idea that Halabi embezzled $50 million from World Vision in an August 2016 statement. The website Charity Navigator states World Vision’s annual revenue is more than $1.2 billion as of 2020.
“Mohammed El Halabi was the manager of our Gaza operations only since October 2014; before that time he managed only portions of the Gaza budget. World Vision’s accountability processes cap the amount individuals in management positions at his level to a signing authority of US$15,000.”
Halabi pleaded not guilty to the charges at the time and the ministry contends it completed its own investigation finding no evidence. It also said there was no evidence he was “part of or working for Hamas.”
“We have been closely following Mohammad’s lengthy trial. Many of our staff have participated as witnesses, and our staff, often alongside representatives from other organizations, have been present as observers in every public trial session,” the statement reads. mmad is innocent of all the charges.”
World Vision has been under fire for statements by a past vice president made against Israel which some saw as support for Hamas, which it did not
Steve Haas, who served as vice president and chief catalyst for World Vision U.S. at the time, wrote a 2015 essay posted by the Lausanne Movement asserting that Christians who supported Israel’s fight against terrorism were actually supporting “occupation.”
It is not the first time World Vision has been accused of ties with terrorism. A U.S. Senate Finance Committee report criticized World Vision’s support of a Sudanese group found to have been funding terrorists.
The Senate maintained that World Vision “had access to the appropriate public information and should have known how, but failed to, properly vet [the Islamic Relief Agency] as a subgrantee, resulting in the transfer of U.S. taxpayer dollars to an organization with an extensive history of supporting terrorist organizations and terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden.”
Lior Haiat, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Israel stands by the allegations against Halabi, which are “well established and rely on concrete evidence.” He said the World Vision and the defense had deliberately prolonged the trial after the prosecution rested in May 2018.
“Israel does not aim to intimidate [non-governmental organizations], nor to keep them from operating in Gaza,” Haiat said. “But we definitely aim to prevent transfer of NGO money that should be helping the people of Gaza into the hands of a terror organization like Hamas.”
Hamas has used the trial in fundraising, printing posters of El Halabi and having children and women march them through the streets of Gaza City in front of Western journalists.