Australia clears World Vision of Israeli claim it aided Hamas

Palestinians take part in an August 2016 rally in support of Mohammad El Halabi, Gaza director for World Vision, whom Israel accuses of diverting funds to Hamas. An Australian government investigation has refuted the Israeli allegations against the charity.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

The Australian government has cleared the international Christian charity World Vision of diverting funds to Hamas.

“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.

In June 2016, Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency arrested World Vision’s Gaza director Mohammed El Halabi and accused him of diverting tens of millions of dollars to Hamas’ military wing.

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.

Smear campaign

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.

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness tweeted that the agency had launched an investigation.

“Thus far no evidence has been forthcoming or uncovered by us that would confirm the allegation,” Gunness said.

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That's quite a list of targeted organizations. I can't help drawing the inference that these actions by the Israeli state represent an effort to eliminate the international aid dimension from the scene, thus ensuring even more extreme levels of suffering and premature death among the captive Palestinian population. It's also worth noting that these groups- including, of course, U.N. agencies- are in a position to issue reports and assessments to the wider public. Viewed in this light, last week's suppression of ESCWA's report affirming the apartheid character of Israeli society forms part of a broader agenda- to completely isolate Palestinians from their advocates and supporters world-wide.

As to the disgusting sham trials mentioned in the article, replete with torture and numerous indignities, we must raise our voices of protest in every available forum. Every good wish goes out to these aid workers and their families.

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So typical of the Israeli establishment to blame others for what it is itself guilty of.It is widely known that
it is to their advantage to create chaos in order to throw others of balance and they have used this tactic ever since the creation of the state.

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Interesting. While World Vision has probably helped many very poor people, they were credibly accused of collaborating with the U.S.-backed military in El Salvador during Uncle Sam's counterrevolutionary war there in the 1980s....

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World Vision is said to receive much of its funding from the Agency for International Development (AID) and has been called by critics an extension of the U.S. State Department. That it's been singled out for attack by the Israeli government is somewhat intriguing. U.S. based Christian evangelical organisations have long played a role in redirecting socially constructive energies associated with liberation movements towards a blind, literal-minded adherence to sacred writ and personalised narratives of salvation. Perhaps World Vision has come to be seen as a particular threat to the Jewish character of Israel- I really don't know. Maybe they refused to confine their mission to Palestinians and had begun to proselytize among Jews. Or the Israeli government, emboldened by events, has decided to remove a source of irritation stemming from Washington. Whatever the case, the charges against Muhammad al Halabi are patently false and represent a new attack on living standards in Gaza. And by the way, "funneling money to Hamas" simply means working in tandem with the local authorities to provide services- although the figure claimed by Israel is clearly preposterous.

And yes, World Vision, among other such outfits, has played a nasty role in Latin American civil conflicts. It's a conservative organisation opposed to most of the goals of any self-respecting popular movement for democratic change.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.