Closing arguments start in World Vision alleged terror case

Halabi claims all activities were humanitarian.

DEMONSTRATORS IN Gaza City protest in 2016 in solidarity with Mohammad El Halabi, who was accused of funneling millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas. (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
DEMONSTRATORS IN Gaza City protest in 2016 in solidarity with Mohammad El Halabi, who was accused of funneling millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas.
Closing arguments started on Tuesday before the Beersheba District Court in the saga of the trial of World Vision operations manager Mohammad El Halabi on charges of assisting Hamas on a variety of fronts.
Halabi has vehemently denied the charges and accused the prosecution and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) of manufacturing charges and coercing a confession to undermine humanitarian organizations in the Gaza Strip.
The legal conflagration has dragged on for four and a half years. Law-enforcement agencies have said Halabi was deeply involved with a range of Hamas financing and other activities, while the former senior World Vision official has accused Israel of violating his due-process rights with extraordinary changes to standard civilian court procedures.
While Tuesday’s hearing was closed to the public, Halabi’s lawyer, Maher Hana, is expected to ask if the last hearing on closing arguments can be open to the public.
Tuesday’s hearing saw the prosecution summarize its case, and it will continue for the first half of a hearing on April 23.
The second half of the April 23 hearing will open Halabi’s closing arguments, which are then due to finish on May 5.
A verdict would likely not come any earlier than September and possibly months later.
There were no surprises from the prosecution’s arguments on Tuesday, Hana said, adding that he could not specify further due to the gag order on much of the case’s details.
On February 18, the Supreme Court granted the prosecution’s request to keep Halabi in police custody until at least May 19, pending the verdict.
Supporters of Halabi have said the prosecution at earlier stages in the case had offered a three-year jail sentence as part of a plea bargain.
In addition, being that Halabi has already served five years, remaining in prison for a continued indefinite period would make little sense because even a conviction could lead to his release based on time already served, his supporters have said.
On February 18, Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz said motions filed by Hana had caused many of the delays since the prosecution concluded its case in April 2018.
The trial had been robust, including the calling of more than 40 witnesses and a mini-trial on aspects of the evidence, he said.
Halabi was indicted in August 2016 for allegedly using World Vision as a front to smuggle $7.2 million a year to Hamas for buying weapons and building attack tunnels. This was instead of being used by the humanitarian organization for food, humanitarian assistance and aid programs for disabled children, as earmarked.
The indictment said World Vision operated in 100 countries and employed 46,000 people, but it had fallen victim to a complex Hamas takeover scheme led by Halabi.
At the time, World Vision denied the allegations and said it was shocked since it had regular internal and independent audits and evaluations, as well as a broad range of internal controls, to ensure aid reached the intended beneficiaries.
Eventually, Australia, which was funding the World Vision Gaza project, cut its funding.
However, an Australian government audit did not find the wrongdoing allegedly uncovered by the Shin Bet.
Besides the drawn-out trial, the legal proceedings have been rife with irregularities in restricting evidence and how Halabi’s lawyer maintains information he learns during the closed proceedings.
So restrictive are some of these procedures that they are much more typical of Israel’s military courts than what is standard in Israeli civilian courts.
In April 2018 and again in July 2020, the Supreme Court rejected Hana’s request to intervene in the case to compel the prosecution to play by more standard civilian court rules.