By Yossi Lempkowicz
A senior official at World Vision, a Christian humanitarian aid NGO, diverted millions of dollars intended for Gaza’s population to the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.
He also stole food and health packages, according to an indictment filed on Thursday against Muhammad Halabi, a Hamas member and manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, in a Beersheba court, for his role in the scheme.
Halabi, a regional operations manager atWorld Vision, was arrested in a joint Shin Bet-IDF-Israel Police operation at the Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza on June 15 as he tried to return to the Strip, the Shin Bet said.
Tens of millions of dollars in aid money to the Gaza Strip from the US and Europe were illegally funneled to Hamas to fund digging of tunnels, purchase rockets and construct military installations for Hamas, according to the indictment.
The money diverted reportedly represents 60 percent of the charity’s total budget.
World Vision is an Evangelical Christian charity created in 1950 that operates in nearly 100 countries worldwide. It is one of the largest relief organizations based in the United States, with a budget of approximately $2.6 billion and nearly 50,000 employees.
It is working since the 1970s with children and economically disadvantaged families in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among other places.
Halabi, a member of Hamas from a young age, was handpicked to infiltrate the international charity in 2005 in order to steal money for the terrorist organization, according to the investigation.
After rising through the ranks of World Vision, Halabi became the manager of the organisation’s activities in the Gaza Strip. “In that capacity he controlled the budget, equipment and humanitarian aid packages worth tens of millions of dollars,” the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security services, said.
“This was a meaningful and important investigation that showed — above all — the cynical and crude way in which Hamas takes advantage of funds and resources from international humanitarian aid organizations,” it said,
Following the indictment, Israel’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai released a statement in Arabic to the people of Gaza, telling them of Halabi’s actions.
“I’m speaking to you today about the Hamas terror organization, which is stealing your money to advance terror. Following a long investigation, we found that Hamas consistently uses funds that Western countries give to international organizations, like the World Vision organization in Gaza,” Mordechai said.
“Millions of dollars that were meant to build projects, support residents financially — even food packages for the needy — were given over to the military wing of Hamas for building bases, for salary bonuses and for digging death tunnels that will bring demolition and destruction upon you and the Gaza Strip,” he told residents of Gaza.
While the general cast the blame on Hamas, Emmanuel Nahshon, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, accused World Vision of being “negligent” in its indirect funding of terrorism. “World vision int. financed ‘unwittingly’ Hamas terror tunnels. How negligent can you be?! Money for kids used for terror,” Nahshon tweeted after the case was revealed.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan warned that the links between terrorist organizations and aid groups in the Gaza Strip are substantial, and urged donor states to ensure that their money does not end up in the hands of terrorists.
“I imagine that in the World Vision organization, which is very anti-Israeli, they turned a blind eye,” Erdan told Army Radio. “The connections that were uncovered today are part of a much wider and very serious phenomenon,” Erdan said.
“Israel will not permit this, and we will take action against these organizations and their activists,” he said. “We expect donor countries and international organizations to carefully check the destination of the money.”