3 years, 119 court hearings: Mohammed Halabi continues to fight back against Israeli imprisonment

Mohammed Halabi. Photo: World Vision

Palestinian charity worker Mohammed Halabi has been brought 119 times to Israeli court during the three years of detention. Halabi, a manager in Gaza for World Vision, was seized by Israeli occupation forces on 15 June 2016. After being secretly detained for nearly two months, he was then the subject of a massive international propaganda campaign, largely spearheaded by Gilad Erdan, in August of that year. Erdan is a member of the Netanyahu government as both Minister of Public Security and Minister of Strategic Affairs, responsible for directing global campaigns of incitement against organizations that defend Palestinian rights.

Benjamin Netanyahu himself contributed a video accusing Palestinians of not caring about their people on the basis of allegations that Halabi had diverted $43 million in funds for charity work in Gaza to instead support Palestinian resistance. This figure far exceeded any reasonable amount of World Vision’s budget; over seven years, World Vision’s entire budget in Gaza amounted to no more than $22 million.

Despite the factual impossibility of the Israeli state’s claims, however, both the Australian and German governments initially suspended funding to the global Christian charity. Over 100 workers in Gaza lost their jobs amid an already extreme unemployment crisis in the besieged Strip. In line with his ongoing official attacks on Palestinian and international organizations that provide any support to Palestinian rights, Erdan even accused World Vision of “turning a blind eye” because it is “very anti-Israeli.”

Anthony Loewenstein published an extensive report in 972mag reporting on the three years of the prosecution of Mohammed Halabi.  By 2017, an official investigation carried out by the Australian government concluded that there was no basis to support the Israeli claim. Funding to World Vision was apparently restored, although none of these international funds are used to support Halabi’s defense.

Upon his arrest, he was denied access to a lawyer for 50 days. Israeli officials issued statements claiming that he confessed. In 972mag, Halabi and his lawyer Maher Hanna both affirm that, like many other Palestinians seized by the Israeli occupation – including children – Halabi was subjected to torture by Shin Bet forces.

Three years and 119 separate court hearings later, no evidence has been asserted to prove the Israeli state’s claims. All that the Israeli prosecution has submitted to the court is testimony by Shin Bet officials and interrogators. When Halabi has sought to bring witnesses from Gaza to speak in his defense in the nominally civilian trial, permission has been denied, one after the other, on “security grounds.”  Halabi’s lawyer has himself been denied permission to visit Gaza and interview witnesses himself.

Throughout the process, Halabi has refused to sign a plea agreement. Over 90 percent of all Palestinian political cases in Israeli military or civil courts are resolved through plea agreements. The endless hearings and lengthy procedures are themselves a form of intense pressure to force Palestinians to agree to a plea – which is often later then used against them as an “admission of guilt.” The judge in the case pressured Halabi to accept a plea agreement, saying “you know how these issues are handled.”

The Halabi case makes clear that the “civil” guise of Israeli courts is often a sham in cases labeled “security matters” – that is, political prosecutions of Palestinians from occupied Palestine ’48 who hold Israeli citizenship, Jerusalemites or even some Palestinians from Gaza, like Halabi. There is very little difference from the Israeli military courts used for Palestinians from the occupied West Bank.

Halabi’s father issued a call to all international institutions, urging them to pressure Israel to release Halabi and drop the baseless charges. He noted that his son’s health had declined substantially in Israeli prison.

Three years later, Mohammed Halabi remains imprisoned; the Gaza Strip and millions of Palestinians remain under siege. While World Vision has consistently supported Halabi’s defense, each new round of allegations against Palestinian rights defenders by Erdan and his ministry seems to lead to new repressive actions, closures of accounts, intensified surveillance and widespread media coverage, with few questions asked about the authenticity of these assertions.

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network urges the broadest possible support for Mohammed Halabi and all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Like Halabi himself, we note that his imprisonment is part and parcel of the political repression of Palestinians and of the siege on Gaza. It is an attempt to continue the siege on Palestinians by all means, including the smearing, torture and imprisonment of charity workers, the targeting of farmers and fishermen and the weekly shooting of popular protesters participating in the Great March of Return.

We also note the complicity of the “international community” not only in the persecution of Mohammed Halabi but, more fundamentally, in the siege of Gaza and the ongoing Nakba targeting the Palestinian people for over 71 years. This case, and those of all over 5,200 Palestinian prisoners, also highlights the critical necessity of escalating the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign and the isolation of the Israeli occupation state, confronting official complicity with popular solidarity.

Freedom for Mohammed Halabi and all Palestinian prisoners! Freedom for Palestine, from the river to the sea!