With a trial’s closing arguments having kicked into gear in the saga of a World Vision official allegedly assisting Hamas, the father of the defendant has revealed new aspects of the trial to The Jerusalem Post.
These new details relate to aspects of the defense witnesses’ testimony during the case as well as the newest and most specific allegations to date about the conduct of the prosecution, while avoiding violating the trial’s gag order.
Mohammad El Halabi has vehemently denied the charges and accused the prosecution and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) of manufacturing charges and coercing a confession in order to undermine humanitarian organizations in Gaza.
The legal conflagration has dragged on for four-and-a-half years with law enforcement alleging Halabi was deeply involved with a range of Hamas financing and other activities, and the former senior World Vision official accusing Israel of violating his due process rights with extraordinary changes to standard civilian court procedures.
In the meantime, and despite years of continued negative reports about the case which could harm Israel before the International Criminal Court, the spokespeople for the Justice Ministry and Foreign ministries continue to be absent.
Repeated attempts to get responses to the claims of Khalil El Halabi, father of Mohammad El Halabi, from Justice Ministry spokeswoman Vita Zak as well as other ministry officials have led to nothing to date and the Foreign Ministry continues to refer all questions to the Justice Ministry.
Zak did claim that the ministry might be considering disclosing some aspects of the prosecution’s side of the story sometime around the next hearing on April 23.
But it was far from clear that Zak would follow through or that the information would be rolled out in a way to get the attention of the media on multiple continents which have been blasting the trial for years.
All of this occurs as Israel is trying to convince the ICC and countries in Europe that its legal system is legitimate and fair in order to avoid war crimes trials.
Regarding the new details, Khalil said that his son, Mohammad “brought conclusive evidence and testimonies of the employees of the organization and internal and external international auditors, as well as contractors and even farmers who all testified that there was no diversion of any funds from the activities of the organization.”
Khalil alleged that this shows that allegations regarding Mohammad misappropriating humanitarian funds for Hamas is unfounded.
Further, he said “at least three defense experts confirmed that the existing ‘evidence’ is clearly unreliable and untrue... based on limited preliminary examination only... Due to the confidentiality imposed on me by the state, I am not allowed to comment on the nature of the evidence.”
All of the above gives a fairly in-depth picture into the case the defense has been presenting at trial, besides attacking the prosecution witnesses.
According to the father, the defense has called exactly three expert witnesses – likely relating to finance or auditing – as well as employees of World Vision, contractors and farmers involved with how the NGO’s funds were actually spent.
Although Zak claimed that the gag order prevents responding to these claims, there is nothing preventing the prosecution from disclosing grounds for how it would attack the veracity of these defense witnesses.
While some of the prosecution’s case against these witnesses would be based on classified information, other parts would not be, and it was unclear why the ministry has failed to disclose such information to date.
At the very least, the ministry could disclose whether it believes these witnesses are not telling the truth or were misled, without getting into the exact details.
Next, Khalil said: “Not all the evidence was transferred to the defense. The defense experts confirmed that despite taking every precautionary measure on their part, the state refused to transfer to them the evidence for examination.”
There is no reason why the ministry, which released a detailed summary of the indictment and an amended indictment in 2016 and 2017, could not release some of the evidence which supports the allegations which were already made public.
Further, the ministry could publicly justify not releasing other information on the basis of avoiding disclosing intelligence sources and methods, and could emphasize that all evidence was present to the court itself, if this was done.
Instead, the ministry has remained silent, relying on the gag order that it requested and obtained from the court.
At a procedural level, Khalil said that, “the defendant was questioned by the prosecution in court for a period of six months and yet the prosecution attributes this length of time to the defense.”
Moreover, he stated, “even when the trial was set for closing arguments, the state asked to postpone” and only days before closing arguments hearing “the prosecution asked to bring more new evidence and many witnesses,” to cover for its weak case.
These last two elements have no overlap with the gag order.
How long the prosecution questioned Mohammad versus how long the defense did is a simple summary of statistics and math.
Khalil’s claims can objectively be proven true or false.
It is unclear why the ministry does not respond, given that even if Mohammad was questioned for longer, they could claim that this was part of standard cross-examination procedures.
Moreover, the prosecution either tried to add last minute witnesses or it did not.
If it did, it could explain which charges from the amended indictment which have already been publicized that it felt needed a boost.
There has also been an ongoing debate about whether the prosecution blocked witnesses from Gaza attending the trial, if the witnesses refused to come out of fear of arrest or if Israel refused certain witnesses it viewed as security threats.
In the case of security threats, it is unclear why creative options could not be carried out, such as taking testimony in a neutral third-party country.
Mohammad was indicted in August 2016 for smuggling $7.2 million a year to Hamas for buying weapons and building attack tunnels.
This was instead of being used by World Vision for food, humanitarian assistance, and aid programs for disabled children.
Neither World Vision nor an Australian government audit found the wrongdoing allegedly uncovered by Israel’s Shin Bet.