Australia says it found no evidence that its World Vision funds were diverted to Hamas, as Israel alleges. But can the Israeli legal process be trusted?
The Australian foreign ministry has not found any evidence that the Gaza head of a major humanitarian organization funneled Australian funds to Hamas, Australia’s ABC news reported Wednesday. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) conducted an investigation after Israel arrested a, Muhammed el-Halabi, the Palestinian head of World Vision’s Gaza office, and accused him of siphoning millions designated for humanitarian relief in Gaza to Hamas.
Israeli authorities held el-Halabi for 50 days before lifting a gag order on the fact that he had even been arrested, during which time Israel says he made a confession. For 25 of those days he was not allowed to see his lawyer, according to early reports. His lawyer has said he was physically beaten, and according to the ABC report, he was held in solitary confinement for six days – a practice that is associated with torture. Halabi has maintained his innocence and pled not guilty, refusing to accept a plea bargain sought by prosecutors.
World Vision is conducting its own internal forensic investigation into the issue, and has stated that it conducts scrupulous yearly audits to detect and prevent exactly this type of fraud. Australia and Germany both suspended their funding to date, for World Vision’s Gaza program in light of the arrest. The organization’s program mainly serves over 90,000 Palestinian children, Palestinians, including 40,000 in Gaza alone, according to its website.
Halabi’s case is currently being heard in Israel’s Beersheva District Court, which generally hears cases related to Gaza. A spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Emanuel Nahshon, told +972 Magazine that Israeli authorities had no comment on the DFAT report, arguing that the trial is not specifically about Australian funds but World Vision’s Gaza funding in general. The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency whose jurisdiction also extends to the West Bank and Gaza, doesn’t focus on NGOs, Nahshon said. “We only got to them through Halabi, because he works with Hamas,” he added, repeating the accusations against the Gazan man. “We have no focus on international non-governmental organizations.”
World Vision did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Israel has made similar accusations that relate to two other humanitarian organizations over the...Read More