Israeli Gag Order Prohibits Coverage of Shin Bet Arrest of World Vision Gaza Manager
Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, Aug 4 2016
UPDATE: The gag order mentioned below has just been lifted.
A few days ago, Think Progress reported that the Gaza manager for World Vision, the Christian NGO performing humanitarian work around the world, was arrested by the Israeli Shin Bet. His name is Mohammad al-Halabi. A gag order prohibits Israeli media from covering this story or naming the victim. World Vision released a statement saying that he had been arrested on June 15th at the Erez checkpoint “on his way home from meetings.” The TP story doesn’t say why he was arrested. It does confirm standard operating procedure for the Shin Bet, which is that he’s been in prison for a month and denied access to legal representation. Though this is a violation of international law, it’s the way Israeli security services always treat security suspects. I’ve learned from an Israeli security source that he’s being accused of “transferring large sums of money to Hamas.” That doesn’t mean that he’s actually done that. It means that this is what the Shin Bet wants the world to think. Though the story is under gag order, when it is lifted you’ll read Israeli headlines along the lines of:
Christian Charity Officer Passed Funds to Hamas Terror Group.
My source could not elaborate on where these funds came from and how he transferred them to Hamas. This is not the first time a Palestinian has been accused of passing funds to “terror groups.” Azmi Bishara, one of the most effective Israeli Palestinian leaders, was driven into exile by similar charges that he used moneylenders to launder tens of thousands of dollars on behalf of Hezbollah. If al-Halabi is innocent of the charges, there might be many reasons for the Shin Bet to target World Vision in this way. First, it is engaged in an intensive series of humanitarian projects designed to improve the lives of Gazans. Israel’s goal is to make the lives of Gazans a living hell. Hence, the occupiers of Gaza would want to frustrate any organization engaged in successful rehabilitation or renovation projects there. Israel is treading on very dangerous ground in arresting a World Vision manager. It is one of the most popular and pervasive humanitarian NGOs in the world. As TP notes in its article, Christian Zionists are one of the few remaining groups in the world which offer Israel unstinting support. To directly assault a group that is so highly valued among Pindo evangelicals is a highly risky venture.
The charges made against al-Halabi seem preposterous on their face. If you were to believe the Shabak, a senior manager of World Vision has been a Hamas operative for over a decade and underwent military training under the Islamist group’s auspices. In 2005, Hamas planted him in the organization and directed him to loot its coffers of “tens of millions of dollars” and transfer the funds to Hamas. This amounted, if one believes the security services, to 60% of the budget of the Gaza office. The money was used by Hamas to fund its military wing, specifically to build tunnel infrastructure. Among other charges against al-Halabi is that he created programs to aid Gaza farmers near Israel’s border. But that in reality he was using the project to establish surveillance outposts for Hamas along the border. Here again is another reason Shin Bet would want to frustrate such projects. It would not wish to see thriving agricultural operations on the border. It would rather see this area open and barren in order to improve Israeli reconnaissance and surveillance.
Al-Halabi’s family has worked for various UN agencies in Gaza for a long time. Knowing Israel’s hostility toward the UN, it would be a feather in Israel’s cap if it could prove that a former UN worker was essentially a terrorist plant. In the noirish script that Shabak wrote such shenanigans may be possible. But not in the real world on a major international relief organization. First, they vet their staff carefully and would not allow a member of the Hamas military wing to become a senior manager. Second, they have strict budgetary and fiscal protections in place that would prevent anyone from such a large-scale theft. Third, it’s almost impossible that World Vision’s Gaza office would handle “tens of millions of dollars.” Given that the Israeli police raided World Vision’s office in Jayloomia, it’s possible they’re claiming al-Halabi stole from this office as well. But given that he didn’t manage this office, it would be hard to imagine how he could pull off such a feat. Thus, the charges not only strain credulity, they break it.
Christian charity rejects Israeli claim funds went to Hamas
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, Aug 4 2016
The Christian relief, development and advocacy organization World Vision says it is “shocked” by Israeli charges that its Gaza director funnelled tens of millions of dollars to the military wing of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas. World Vision said in a statement on Thursday:
On Jun 15 our Gaza operations director Mohammad El Halabi was arrested on his way home from routine meetings, and on Aug 4, after 50 days in Israeli state detention, Mohammad was charged with providing support to Hamas. Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true.
Founded in 1950, World Vision has worked with Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1975. In recent months the group says it has carried out extensive work in Gaza, including rehabilitating large tracts of agricultural land, building greenhouses, irrigation and water wells and providing equipment to hundreds of fishermen whose livelihoods have been severely disrupted by constant Israeli military harassment and attacks. Haaretz reported that Halabi was detained by IOF as he attempted to return from Israel to Gaza through the Erez crossing. According to Haaretz, the Shin Bet has accused Halabi of funnelling “tens of millions of dollars” of World Vision resources to Hamas “some of it to fund digging military-related tunnels and to purchase weapons.” According to the NYT, the Shin Bet put the figure at $43m, allegedly funnelled to Hamas in just six years. Israel has not explained how such astonishing sums could have gone missing without the charity noticing, especially in Gaza where relatively small sums of development money could have a potentially massive impact. Haaretz said:
The Shin Bet claims that $80k contributed by UK donors for needy families and to support civilian projects were used to build a Hamas position in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, to pay Hamas activists’ salaries and bonuses to members who had fought against Israel in the 2014 war.
Halabi’s attorney Muhammad Mahmoud told the newspaper that his client denies all ties to Hamas and that the fact the investigation took more than 50 days indicates a “problem” with the evidence. Shin Bet has routinely used torture in interrogations of Palestinians. World Vision said in its statement:
We have detailed procedures and control mechanisms in place to ensure that the funds entrusted to us are spent in accordance with applicable legal requirements and in ways that do not fuel conflict but rather contribute to peace.
Halabi’s lawyer told Haaretz:
Some allegations appeared to be linked to an incident allegedly in which armed Hamas members came in two commercial vehicles with a machine gun mounted on it and under threat they took what they wanted. We will study the file and its evidence some more, but I think this file started off very inflated and the balloon has since been deflated.
Israel, moreover, has a history of making baseless allegations that various organizations are tied to Hamas. The accusations regarding World Vision also come months after Amnesty International expressed concern over harassment and intimidation by Israel aimed at hampering and discrediting the work of Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders and NGOs. The arrest of Halabi may be an ominous sign of a broader crackdown specifically targeting humanitarian workers in Gaza. Haaretz reported, citing Shin Bet sources:
Other information obtained while investigating Halabi has raised suspicions that other humanitarian aid organizations, as well, including United Nations institutions, have exploited their jobs for Hamas.
It said that details of these cases are under Israeli gag orders. The arrest was first reported by Think Progress on Aug 1. Think Progress revealed that a senior Gaza staffer, presumably Halabi, had been held for more than 40 days “without evidence or trial” and that occupation forces had searched World Vision’s offices in East Jayloomia. The charity works closely with UN agencies and the Red Cross and has received funding from Pindostan and European governments. ThinkProgress commented:
The detention of a World Vision employee and subsequent raids potentially complicates the historically strong relationship between Israel and evangelical Christians in Pindostan.