Head of private charity in Gaza charged with funneling millions to Hamas
Israeli authorities are charging Mohammed El Halabi, chief executive of the charity World Vision, with diverting millions of dollars to Hamas.
Aid groups throughout the region are worried that funds raised from private citizens and donated by Western government may dry up as a result of the probe.
Many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are bracing for the fallout as authorities prepare to lay out the case against Mohammed El Halabi, the chief executive of World Vision and one of the most prominent aid executives in the territory.
“If Israel has evidence to prove that El Halabi turned 60 percent of World Vision’s money into funding for Hamas, a cruel catastrophe will hit Palestinian society,” said Bassam Eid, a human rights activist who has fallen out with local leaders for criticizing corruption within the Palestinian Authority.
“This will also prevent other [nongovernmental organizations] from working in the West Bank as well as in Gaza,” he said.
Mr. El Halabi, who has been detained since June, was officially charged Thursday at a court in Beersheba with organizing a five-year-long fraud operation that prosecutors say helped Islamist militant group Hamas build arms-smuggling tunnels, amass arms and other supplies, and stage terrorist attacks against Israelis. A dominant political force in the crowded Palestinian enclave, Hamas has long refused to recognize the existence of Israel and is considered a terrorist organization by Washington.
Israel’s internal security agency known as Shabak, or Shin Bet, says most of World Vision’s resources in the Gaza Strip — some $7.2 million annually, largely from donors and governments in Western countries including the U.S., England and Australia — were transferred to Hamas to strengthen its terrorist arm.
Specifically, the Shabak charge sheet says Mr. El Halabi established humanitarian projects and fictitious agricultural associations to serve as cover for the transfer of funds to Hamas. In one of the most stunning charges, prosecutors say the World Vision chief funded greenhouses to hide sites where tunnels were being dug. Those tunnels proved devastatingly effective in the clashes with Israeli forces two years ago.
El Halabi was groomed for the job since he was young, according to a rare statement from Israeli intelligence. He was indoctrinated and trained as a Hamas operative in the early 2000s.
Opponents of U.S. aid to the West Bank and Gaza – even when dispensed by private charities – have been warning about this for years. Ever since the Holy Land Foundation trial of nearly a decade ago showed links to charities in the Middle East, it's been assumed that some money given to charities in the U.S. found its way to Hamas to fund terrorism.
The HLF trial also demonstrated the sophistication and complexity of the networks used by charities to get money into the hands of the terrorists. So it's a good bet that there are other private organizations involved in helping Hamas launch attacks against Israeli civilians.
Direct aid to Hamas is illegal in the U.S. But the government donates to charities where some of that money almost certainly ends up funding Hamas. Until some kind of assurances can be given the American taxpayer that our government is not supporting terrorism against the Israelis, all aid should be stopped.