In yet another blow to the propaganda-driven case against Palestinian aid worker Mohammed al-Halabi, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported on Tuesday, 21 March that “an internal review into World Vision funding in Gaza has uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government aid funding to Hamas.”
Al-Halabi was seized by Israeli occupation forces at the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing and in August 2006, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, went on a propaganda offensive, claiming that Halabi had redirected World Vision funds to the Palestinian resistance organization, Hamas. Israeli occupation officials declared that he had diverted $43 million in charitable funds to the Palestinian resistance, including a video from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Palestinians of not caring about their people. The amounts cited dwarfed the actual budget to which al-Halabi had access, by all accounts. These seemingly impossible claims were made after nearly a month of interrogation, during which Halabi was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment.
The claims against Halabi were accompanied by similarly touted claims against civil engineer Waheed Bursh, a contractor with the UN Development Program, also accused of redirecting resources to the Palestinian resistance – in his case, rubble from the Israeli bombing of Gaza. However, despite the large-scale publicity surrounding Borsh’s arrest, he was released seven months later, indicating that no serious charges were ever made. He was cited as a “witness” againat al-Halabi, and later confirmed that he completely denied any allegations against the aid worker.
“The news DFAT found no evidence of the misuse of World Vison funds comes as Mr Halabi’s trial continues in Israel. He has rejected a plea deal offered by Israeli authorities and has pleaded not guilty, claiming he is innocent of all charges,” reported the Australian Brodcasting Corporation. The plea agreement he rejected would have seen him imprisoned for three years, a short sentence which again indicates a lack of serious charges or evidence in the case.
Indeed, rather than presenting any evidence to back up the widely-publicized public claims against World Vision and Halabi, Israeli occupation officials have instead submitted additional, lesser charges against Halabi that have no relation to diverting funds or his work with World Vision; two such charges are those of “passing information to the enemy” and of “aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war,” with the enemy in question being Palestinians in Gaza. Al-Halabi is, himself, of course, a Palestinian living under occupation and siege in Gaza.
He is also charged with giving small donations of his own money, rather than redirecting World Vision funds, to charities and mosques in Gaza. ABC notes that “One incident detailed accuses El Halabi of allegedly giving ‘300 Israeli shekels on a monthly base to a charity managed by Hamas’…Another says the defendant transferred ‘hundreds of shekels during 2015-2016 to a mosque managed by Hamas’…No details are given of the ‘millions’ of dollars Israeli intelligence officials initially accused El Halabi of diverting.” 100 NIS is approximately $26 USD.
“So far, our own ongoing forensic audit has not uncovered any money subverted and to hear DFAT say their investigation hasn’t either is consistent and is very good news,” said Tim Costello of World Vision.
Despite the severe lack of evidence or credibility for Israeli claims in this case, World Vision’s work in Gaza – and government funding from the Australian and German governments – have been shut down. Over 100 Palestinian workers for World Vision have lost their jobs in Gaza in an area already suffering from massive unemployment and poverty.