Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Thursday 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 after a senior Palestinian aid worker in Gaza was indicted for allegedly funneling millions of dollars in donations to the Hamas terror group.
“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.”
The Shin Bet security service said earlier Thursday that the Hamas terrorist organization siphoned off “tens of millions of dollars” from the US-based World Vision charity over a period of several years, using the money to fund its military wing.
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, investigators said.
Muhammad Halabi, a Hamas member and manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, was indicted on a number of security-related charges in a Beersheba court earlier Thursday for his role in the alleged scheme. He was arrested in a joint Shin Bet-IDF-Israel Police operation at the Erez Crossing on June 15 as he tried to return to the Strip, the Shin Bet said.
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.
“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,” the Shin Bet said.
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.
In a statement responding to the indictment, World Vision stressed that 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.”
It maintained that its Gaza programs “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.”
World Vision also cast doubt on the veracity of the allegations, and said that it would “carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence.” It repeated its call “for a fair, legal process for Muhammad.”
World Vision is an Evangelical Christian charity created in 1950 that operates in nearly 100 countries worldwide. Today 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 has operated in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza since the 1970s.