What’s really behind Israel’s attack on Christian charity World Vision?
Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada. Aug 5 2016
Israel grabbed global headlines on Thursday with sensational allegations that tens of millions of dollars from the Christian relief and advocacy organization World Vision had been diverted to the military wing of the resistance group Hamas in Gaza. But a day later, the Israeli claims look more than ever like sloppy propaganda. A World Vision official says Israel’s sums don’t add up and it has also emerged that
a Mossad-linked Israeli group Shurat ha-Din has been stoking allegations against the charity for years. An IOF general has said that Israel is relying on a “confession” extracted by an intelligence agency which is notorious for using torture the Shin Bet. Israel has also instructed its diplomats to smear World Vision, especially among Christian communities around the world. But if Israel’s intention was to damage international humanitarian efforts in Gaza, it can chalk up a success, at least for now. Australia, which has given World Vision about $5m in the last three years for projects in Gaza, said it was suspending contributions pending an investigation. Indeed, ending humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, or at least bringing it under even tighter Israeli control, looks like the purpose of the allegations. In June, the Shin Bet arrested World Vision’s Gaza director Mohammad El Halabi and interrogated him for more than 50 days, a fact that only came to light this week. Israel claims Halabi had diverted up to $50m to Hamas over the last six years. But on Friday, the CEO of World Vision Australia said this could not be the case. Tim Costello told SBS:
World Vision’s program in Gaza amounts to only around $2m/yr to $3m/yr. If every cent has been diverted, it doesn’t add up to $50m. I’ve been there, the Dept of Foreign Affairs has been there, (Price Waterhouse Coopers) audit our books.
Gen Yoav Mordechai, the head of COGAT, told SBS:
After a long investigation, it’s clear that Hamas is using the money which the world donates to international organizations such as World Vision in Gaza, and the evidence is the confession of the detainee Mohammad El Halabi, the director of the organization in Gaza, that he was transferring money to Hamas, millions of dollars.
But this apparent reliance on an alleged confession is deeply troubling, not least to World Vision’s Costello, who told ABC:
It certainly concerns me that a person can be in detention for 25 days without seeing a lawyer. Over 50 days without seeing family members and even World Vision staff.
Shin Bet, the agency that detained Halabi, routinely uses torture when interrogating Palestinians. In another twist, the far-right-wing Israeli lawfare group Shurat ha-Din said on Friday that it has been warning for years that World Vision funds “were being utilized for terrorism.” In comments to the JPost, Shurat ha-Din said:
(Last year we) cautioned the Australian government that World Vision was operating as an active arm of the PFLP and other terror groups.
It added that World Vision’s Australia arm and the Australian government had rejected the allegations. Shurat HaDin’s accusation is odd given that the Israeli government’s charges against the charity’s Gaza director involve the Islamist movement Hamas, rather than the leftist and secular PFLP. Shurat ha-Din director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner has previously admitted that her organization has effectively acted as a proxy for the Mossad. Her group’s principal activity is to attempt to sabotage the work of Palestine solidarity, human rights and other organizations by lobbing lurid allegations presented without evidence and filing baseless lawsuits. This method is on full display in this case: in a post on Facebook, Shurat ha-Din asserted that Israel’s mere allegations against World Vision’s Gaza director Halabi meant that its own warnings about the charity had been “proven true.” In recent months, Israel has launched a major crackdown on domestic and Palestinian NGOs through intimidation campaigns and repressive legislation. There are indications that the assault on World Vision is the international counterpart to this campaign. Israel has ordered its representatives around the world to go on an offensive over the matter. Ynet reported:
Specifically, the diplomats were instructed to spread the news of Halabi’s alleged actions among liberal and religious groups who support World Vision.
A senior foreign ministry official reportedly ordered:
Contacts, journalists and relevant opinion makers should be briefed, and an emphasis needs to also be put on the digital arena.
Diplomats were also armed with “detailed background materials about the case and talking points to be used in meetings, posts on social media and infographics,” Ynet said. Dore Gold, the director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, wrote a scaremongering letter to his counterparts around the world claiming in effect that humanitarian aid to Gaza amounts to support for terrorism. Gold wrote, according to Ynet:
It’s important to note that Hamas has close ties to the security apparatus in Iran, which is looking for ways to expand its military influence from Syria to Yemen. Beyond that, Hamas has also been closely working with ISIS militants in northern Sinai. The bolstering of Hamas’s military abilities made possible by humanitarian aid serves the strategic interests of the big destabilizing powers operating in the Middle East today.
That both Iran and Hamas are mortal enemies of ISIS is apparently no obstacle to Israel making such claims. But by spreading sensational allegations that a group as well-known as World Vision is “funding terrorism,” Israel may seek to put other organizations and the Israel-friendly Western governments that fund them on notice that all their operations, especially in Gaza, are at its mercy. It may also be an effort to break growing solidarity for Palestinians in churches, where there has been a strong push to hold Israel accountable through boycott, divestment and sanctions. Israel has already effectively succeeded in bringing the UN to heel, making it complicit in the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism through which Israel strictly controls the entry of reconstruction supplies into the territory. As EI revealed in January, a top international expert in UN law had warned in a confidential memo that the GRM was illegal and violated fundamental rights of Palestinians. In an ominous sign, Shin Bet sources have already warned that World Vision is likely to be only the first of many humanitarian organizations and even UN agencies targeted by allegations that they support “terrorism.”
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:
Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true.
The allegations come amid an ongoing Israeli campaign against NGOs. The charity confirmed that on Jun 15 its Gaza operations director Mohammad El Halabi “was arrested on his way home from routine meetings.” On Aug 4, “after 50 days in Israeli state detention, Mohammad was charged with providing support to Hamas,” it added. 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 to Gaza through the Erez crossing from present-day Israel. According to Haaretz, 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.” Citing Shin Bet, The New York Times 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:
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 any 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 that 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” from World Vision stores. He said:
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 has a history of making baseless allegations that various organizations are tied to Hamas. The accusations regarding World Vision also come months after AI 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 UN 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 ThinkProgress, which revealed on Aug 1 that a senior Gaza staffer 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.