“The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) says an internal review into World Vision funding in Gaza has uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government aid funding to Hamas,” the country’s public broadcaster ABC reported on Tuesday.
Tim Costello, the head of World Vision Australia, welcomed the finding, which he said confirmed those of his own organization.
“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,” Costello told ABC.
World Vision rejected the Israeli allegations, noting that the sums Israel claimed had been diverted far exceeded its entire program budget in Gaza.
In the wake of Israel’s allegations, the Australian government suspended its funding for World Vision’s work in Palestine and launched the investigation.
El Halabi’s lawyer said that his client had been tortured during weeks of Israeli interrogation.
When his trial began in August last year, human rights defenders condemned Israel’s use of secret proceedings.
“Secret trials are the most flagrant violation of the right to a public hearing. Holding these court proceedings behind closed doors would render any convictions obtained unsound,” said Magdalena Mughrabi of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.
The Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz quoted “Western diplomats” last August saying Israel had only been interested in creating a “public diplomacy buzz” and had not provided a shred of evidence to any donor country to support the claims that World Vision funds had been transferred to Hamas.
The conclusion of the Australian government inquiry deals another blow to Israel’s smear campaign against humanitarian organizations.
The trial of El Halabi, who has refused an Israeli plea bargain offer, is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to target aid workers.
In January, Wahid al-Bursh, an employee of the United Nations Development Program, accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to seven months in prison, a relatively light term given the gravity of Israel’s claims that he had “aided Hamas.”
On Tuesday, Israel revealed details of its allegations against Muhammad Murtaja, director of the Gaza office of Turkey’s international aid agency. Israel arrested Murtaja in February, claiming he had diverted funds to Hamas.
Murtaja’s lawyer has denied all of Israel’s allegations and said the accusations fit Israel’s pattern of targeting aid agencies.
Also in February, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, suspended the head of its staff union in Gaza after Israel claimed that he had been elected to the leadership of Hamas.
Suheil al-Hindi denied the claims, telling Ma’an News Agency that he was “shocked” by the Israeli accusations and by his suspension.
“Thus far no evidence has been forthcoming or uncovered by us that would confirm the allegation,” Gunness said.