Palestinian aid worker Mohammed al-Halabi pleaded not guilty to Israeli occupation allegations that he “diverted” aid funds to the Palestinian resistance in Gaza, in the Beersheba Magistrate Court on Thursday, 2 February. The court extended his detention until 23 February.
Halabi, the manager of Gaza operations for the international charity World Vision, was seized by Israeli occupation forces on 20 July 2016 as he entered the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing, having already obtained a permit to cross. He was subject to torture and ill-treatment under lengthy interrogation and his arrest itself was kept secret for nearly a month. When announced, his arrest was met with a public relations blitz by the Israeli occupation, including a massive international propaganda campaign declaring that he had diverted $43 million in charitable funds to the Palestinian resistance and a video from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Palestinians of not caring about their people. Despite the unrealistic figures that far exceeded the total budgets of the charity and the complete lack of evidence provided for the charges, international governments such as the Australian and German governments cut off their funding to World Vision. The charity froze its operations in Gaza and over 100 Palestinian local staff were laid off from their jobs.
In January, al-Halabi rejected a plea bargain agreement that would have seen him imprisoned for three years – a strikingly short sentence that indicates charges far below the original, sensationalized media releases. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran an extensive report about the weakness of the Israeli case; in retaliation, Halabi has been moved into solitary confinement, ABC reported. Halabi and his lawyers have emphasized the lack of evidence against him and have described these actions as an attempt to pressure him to accept the rejected plea deal.
The hearing was attended by 12 World Vision staff as well as a representative of the Australian government; the charity issued a statement noting that “World Vision has not seen any credible evidence supporting the charges.”