World Vision director in Gaza charged with funneling $7.2 million to terrorists

by Gregory Tomlin, |
Palestinian Mohammad El Halabi (C), a manager of operations in the Gaza Strip for U.S.-based Christian charity World Vision, accused by Israel of funnelling millions of dollars in aid money to Hamas in Gaza, a charge denied by the Islamist militant group, is seen before a hearing at the Beersheba district court in southern Israel August 4, 2016. | REUTERS/Dudu Grunshpan

BEERSHEBA, Israel (Christian Examiner) – The humanitarian aid organization World Vision, which has evangelical Christian roots, has denied the claim the manager of its operations in Gaza has been funneling money and supplies to the terror organization Hamas.

Mohammad Khalil El Halabi was arrested by Israeli police June 15 while he was on his way home from "routine meetings," World Vision said in a statement. He has been held by the authorities since and has now been charged with aiding and abetting the terror organization with the charity's resources.

In its statement, World Vision said it was "shocked to learn of the charges against Mohammad."

The organization also said it abided by a policy of neutrality in political affairs and rejects involvement with military and terrorist activities so it can focus on serving the poor. It also claimed it has policies in place that ensure all funds transferred to the Middle East – and Gaza – are accounted for and spent on projects which "do not fuel conflict but rather contribute to peace."

"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," the organization said.

For Israeli authorities, however, the case is clear cut. They claim Halabi funneled 60 percent of the charity's funds to terrorists. They also claim that he confessed to having done so.

"Hamas stole this money and passed it to its military wing to build bases, provide salary bonuses, and dig the tunnels of death that have brought destruction upon you and the Gaza Strip," Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Israel's coordinator of the government's activities in the territories, said in a videotaped statement to the people of Gaza. "Hamas is burying you and the hope of a normal life."

According to the Times of Israel, Halabi provided exact details of where the stolen money – about $7.2 million – was used. According to Shin Bet, Israel's intelligence and security service, about 2,500 cartons of food and 3,300 cartons of "cleaning supplies" were given to Hamas fighters. The fighters also registered their children – children they did not have – to receive money meant for poor children and those injured in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Halabi also confessed to sending some money to his father, who operates the United Nations School System in Gaza and who is also a member of Hamas. His father then sent the money to Hamas fighters, Shin Bet said in its statement.

More arrests will likely follow as Halabi has reportedly supplied the names of others who aided in stealing the charity's money and supplies.

In 2014, Halabi was profiled on World Vision's website and praised as "humanitarian hero" serving in the "Occupied Palestinian Territories." The phrase "Occupied Palestinian Territories" is seen by Israelis as favorable ot the interests of Hamas.

Australia and Germany have since suspended funding to World Vision for its humanitarian aid services.

"The allegations that a locally employed World Vision employee in the Gaza Strip has diverted aid funds from a range of international donors and provided support to Hamas are deeply troubling," Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement.

"Australia's aid to the Palestinian Territories is intended for vital humanitarian and development assistance to the Palestinian community. Any diversion of the generous support of the Australian and international community for military or terrorist purposes by Hamas is to be deplored and can only harm the Palestinian people."