Is Gaza human-rights activist Mohammad El Halabi getting a fair trial?

Halabi, a former head of an American humanitarian organization, was arrested in 2016. He has been in jail for more than five years and has endured 165 court sessions without any credible evidence.

Demonstrators protest in solidarity with Mohammad El Halabi, in Gaza City in 2016. (photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS)
Demonstrators protest in solidarity with Mohammad El Halabi, in Gaza City in 2016.
On the International Day of Justice, which fell on July 17, one needs to look at individuals being tried in Israeli courts are receiving fair trials.
Israeli basic law and various Knesset laws have generally detailed the basic tenets of a fair trial. While it is wrong to generalize without proper and full research, one particular case stands out.
The case involving Mohammad El Halabi from the Gaza Strip is showing indications of not being a fair trial.
Halabi, a former head of the American humanitarian organization World Vision, was arrested in 2016 upon his return from a meeting in Jerusalem. Israeli media said he was being accused of diverting millions of dollars contributed by the Australian government that were earmarked for humanitarian aid to Hamas. The amounts mentioned in the media were much larger than the entire budget of the humanitarian organization. Nevertheless, World Vision suspended its operations in Gaza and hired top-notch investigators to check the Israeli claims. Australia did the same. After exhaustive research they both came up with no evidence to back the claims.
Halabi has been in jail for more than five years and has endured 165 court sessions without any credible evidence to back the charges against him. He has been denied bail and his trial has been declared secret without any credible reason except possibly to hide the fact that the prosecutor is afraid of being exposed for unjustly keeping an innocent man in jail for such a long time.
In examining the elements of a fair trial, as set by the State of Israel, we can see clear violations in this case. The items below were taken verbatim from the Knesset website.
• “Every person has the right to a fair trial, unprejudiced and by an independent judge.”
A look at this case and the collusion between the military prosecutor and the judge shows that this requirement has not been met. At one time in session 163, the prosecutor told the judge that he was under pressure from the Foreign Ministry to try and get a confession from the accused and close the case. Halabi, in fact, was offered a plea bargain in the first year of his trial. If he confesses to the crime, he will be freed. He refused and continues to refuse repeated offers saying he will not confess to a lie and that he did nothing wrong.
• “Proportionality: The trial process and its result must be proportional to the damage caused by the violation and to its spirit. Shoplifting cannot be punishable by a 10-year prison term.”
BY OFFERING a plea bargain that would have freed Halabi after one year in jail shows that holding him for five years without a chance to be released on bail is a violation of the concept of proportionality. Also, since no proof was given as to the amount and recipients of these funds, one can deduce that the proportionality clause as to “damage caused by the violation” has been violated. Furthermore, the very fact that Israel has allowed money to go to Hamas shows that even if Halabi did in fact transfer money to Hamas, why hold him for five years while former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved millions of Qatari dollars to be transferred to Hamas.
• “Right to examine evidence: Every person has the right to a full examination.”
This clause was totally ignored. The trial has been held in secret and Halabi’s lawyer has not been allowed a full examination of the evidence because of this. In fact, in an unprecedented decision by the court, defense lawyer Maher Hanna was limited in the number of pages he could use to summarize his closing statement, and is being forced to type his summation on the computer of the Israeli military prosecutor. Not only was Halabi’s lawyer denied the right to examine the evidence, but he has been held back from making his defense. Hanna’s complaint to the Israeli Bar Association failed to change the actions of the court.
• “Forbidden fruit – inadmissible evidence: No use may be made of evidence which has been obtained through illegal means.”
Here is another concept that has been totally violated.
• “Right to a speedy judgment, with explanation.”
While some evidence was secret, other public evidence was apparently fabricated. Lawyer Hanna asked why the state, which made far-reaching accusations against Halabi (such as the importation of thousands of tons of iron into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing), didn’t even bother to produce the exact details of the entries into Gaza, which Israel has access to. If that was the case, this would have been damning evidence, but it is fabricated evidence, according to Hanna. In fact, the lawyer and his client submitted a complaint to the Israel Police Fraud Division in April accusing the state prosecutor of fabricating evidence.
• “Right to a speedy judgment, with explanation.”
A known concept in jurisprudence is that “justice delayed is justice denied.” Holding an innocent man for five years pending the results of a protracted 165-session trial is a clear case of justice being denied.
Clearly, the court has overextended its reach in the case of Halabi. The winner of the UN’s Humanitarian award in 2012 needs to be protected from this unjust court.
Will Halabi get justice? Will the new Bennett/Lapid government intervene and ensure his immediate release and compensation for being wrongly arrested and detained for more than five years?
The writer is an award-winning Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem.