A global charity cast doubt Thursday on Israel’s indictment of one of its Palestinian aid workers for diverting million of dollars to fund the Hamas war machine in the Gaza Strip and insisted it conducts regular audits and evaluations to ensure financial aid in coastal enclave reaches those who need it most.
Muhammad Halabi, a Hamas member and manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, was indicted in a Beersheba court earlier Thursday on a number of security-related charges, for his alleged role in the scheme. He was arrested on June 15 in a joint operation between the Shin Bet, IDF and Israel Police at the Erez Crossing from Israel into Gaza as he tried to return to the Strip.
“Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true,” said World Vision International in a statement on the indictment.
“Programs in Gaza have been subject to regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and a broad range of internal controls aimed at ensuring that assets reach their intended beneficiaries and are used in compliance with applicable laws and donor requirements,” the charity said.
The money — allegedly some 60 percent of the charity’s total budget — was used to purchase weapons, dig tunnels and construct military installations for Hamas, according to investigators.
“World Vision was shocked to learn of these charges against Mohammad,” World Vision said.
“We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence. We continue to call for a fair, legal process for Mohammad.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied the “false accusations,” telling AFP the movement had “no relationship” with Halabi.
Khalil al-Halabi, Mohammed’s father, also told AFP his son had “no relationship with Hamas or any Palestinian organization.”
IDF Major General Yoav Mordechai, head of the military body that coordinates Israeli civilian activity in the West Bank and Gaza, was due to meet World Vision’s president Thursday evening to present him with the findings.
World Vision works in conjunction with the United Nations, often implementing its projects.
The UN said it was “aware of the very serious allegations” and would be following the case.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon called on the UN to exercise greater control over its Gaza aid programs to ensure that they are not exploited by terror groups.
“An organization which received UN support was caught funding terrorism,” he said in a statement. ” The UN must ensure that other organizations supported by the international community are not aiding terrorists.”
The aid group noted it “subscribes to the humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality and therefore rejects any involvement in any political, military or terrorist activities and maintains its independence as a humanitarian aid agency committed to serving the poor, especially children.”
However, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan suggested that the charity had some idea that the Hamas military was benefiting from its donations.
“I imagine that in the World Vision organization, which is very anti-Israeli, they turned a blind eye,” Erdan told Army Radio.
Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip, has extensive power over the coastal enclave’s economic and material resources.
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.
Over a period of several years approximately 40 percent of World Vision’s funds for civilian projects — $1.5 million a year — was also given to Hamas battalions in cash, according to the Shin Bet, along with approximately $4 million a year that was designated for helping the needy.
“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 added. “We expect donor countries and international organizations to carefully check the destination of the money.”
World Vision is an Evangelical Christian charity created in 1950 that operates in nearly 100 countries worldwide. It is today 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 has operated in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza since the 1970s.
A 2015 statement on World Vision’s website said it provided support to roughly 90,000 people in Gaza.