Why is a highly explosive World Vision court case dragging on for so long?
As The Jerusalem Post’s legal correspondent, Yonah Jeremy Bob, reported in the paper last week, it has been four-and-a-half years since Mohammad el-Halabi, World Vision’s Gaza operations manager, was indicted in the Beersheba District Court for diverting $7.2 million to Hamas – 60% of World Vision’s annual budget for Gaza – to buy arms and build terrorist tunnels to launch attacks against Israel.
World Vision is an Evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization operating in more than 100 countries, with an annual budget of $2.6 billion and some 46,000 employees.
Halabi, who has been jailed ever since his arrest almost five years ago, was charged with using World Vision as a front for funneling money for Hamas terrorist operations.
“On June 15th, 2016, Mohammad El Halabi, the manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, was arrested on his way home from routine meetings,” World Vision said in a statement. “After 50 days in Israeli state detention, Mohammad was charged with providing support to Hamas. Mohammad pled not guilty to all charges made against him.
“World Vision condemns any diversion of aid funding and strongly condemns any act of terrorism or support for those activities.”
World Vision expressed shock over the charges against Halabi, saying it had suspended its work in Gaza and commissioned an external audit. “The audit, completed in July of 2017, found no evidence of diversion of funds and no material evidence that El Halabi was part of, or working for, Hamas,” it said.
Halabi’s lawyer, Maher Hana, and the Justice Ministry indicated that closing arguments are now scheduled for March 3. Bob reported that “the legal proceedings themselves have been rife with irregularities much more typical of Israel’s military courts than of what takes place in civilian courts.”
In April 2018 and again in July 2020, he noted, the High Court of Justice rejected Hana’s petition to intervene in the case to compel the prosecution to run the case according to standard civilian rules.
In the 2020 decision, however, the High Court confirmed allegations by Hana that the legal proceedings were being conducted with unusual restrictions. Among these were the fact that not all documentary evidence was presented to Hana; the lawyer had to question Shin Bet agents without being able to see them; and while some evidence was presented to Hana, he could see it only once, without taking notes or being given a copy.
Hana said that in May 2020, the court set limits on what he could write down about the case even within his own law office, and that the prosecution threatened him with arrest if he violated these restrictions.
The ministry said that the special measures taken in the case were necessary to protect Shin Bet agents’ identities, as well as other top-secret undercover sources and methods that the agency used to penetrate Hamas and catch Halabi.
“Shin Bet witnesses’ identities are protected by law,” the ministry said. “These witnesses are testifying at the trial in the presence of the defendant and his counsel, and therefore the defendant’s right to a defense is intact.”
On the one hand, the United Nations designated Halabi “a humanitarian hero” in 2014, and his father, Khalil el-Halabi, who served as head of UNRWA’s educational institutions in the Gaza Strip for many years, insisted recently that his son is “a Palestinian Dreyfuss” being held on trumped-up charges.
On the other hand, the Foreign Ministry website states that he is actually a major figure in the terrorist/military arm of Hamas, and “in addition to the financial and logistical aid that El Halabi provided Hamas, he also exploited his visits to Israel, which were permitted due to his legitimate work for World Vision, to engage in serious terrorist activity.”
Which version is true? We can only hope that the court will issue its ruling soon. If Halabi is innocent, then he should be released after nearly five years detention. If he is guilty, the court should issue its verdict and ensure he is duly punished. Whatever the case, justice needs to be seen and served without further delay.