Western Allies Complain to Israel Over Lack of Info About Alleged Transfer of Aid Funds to Hamas

Diplomats say Israel is more interested in creating 'public diplomacy buzz' than resolving case of World Vision's Mohammed El Halabi, whom Israel accuses of diverting millions of dollars to Islamist group in Gaza.

Head of World Vision's Gaza branch Mohammad el-Halabi
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Some of Israel’s key allies have complained to the Foreign Ministry about not receiving any intelligence or evidence about the World Vision manager in Gaza whom Israel suspects of transferring millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to Hamas.

Western diplomats told Haaretz that Israel’s behavior in the affair is creating the impression that the government is interested in creating a “public diplomacy buzz,” rather than any real attempt to resolve the matter.

“The Israelis’ priorities in this affair are very strange,” said one Western diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, citing the diplomatic sensitivity of the story. “Israel’s conduct is very disappointing.”

On August 4, the Shin Bet security service announced the arrest of Mohammad El Halabi, World Vision’s Gaza zonal manager. The Shin Bet claimed that, for six years, Halabi served as a Hamas agent inside the Christian aid organization. During this time, it alleged, he diverted millions of dollars of donations from Western governments to Hamas, which the Islamist group then used for building tunnels and manufacturing weaponry in Gaza.

Western diplomats noted that as of Thursday, neither the ministry in Jerusalem nor any other official Israeli body has provided additional information or evidence concerning the matter to any of the Western countries involved, directly or indirectly, in transferring donations to World Vision.

The diplomats also noted that in the past few days, the Australian, British and U.S. ambassadors asked for clarifications from the Foreign Ministry concerning the delay in the transfer of the information and have expressed their displeasure to Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold and his deputy, Jeremy Issacharoff, with regard to Israel’s conduct, and the lack of cooperation on the part of the Israeli authorities.

The Western diplomats note that the Israeli government has carried out an extensive public diplomacy and media campaign concerning the affair, and invested considerable efforts in briefings for the Israeli and international media. However, it has invested hardly any effort in transferring information and evidence to its allies and closest friends in the world.

After filing the indictment against Halabi, the Shin Bet, Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office launched a public diplomacy and media campaign over the affair. One of its main messages was emphasizing the fact that Western countries do not supervise the funds they transfer to aid organizations active in Gaza, and that this money finds its way to terror organizations — first and foremost Hamas. So, for example, in briefings held by the Shin Bet for both the Israeli and foreign media, much was made of the $80,000 raised in Great Britain for World Vision, which was allegedly then used to fund the construction of a Hamas military post in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip.

Headquartered in the United States, World Vision is a well-funded organization. It has branches and offices around the world, and has been operating in Israel since 1975, in East Jerusalem as well as the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Most of the organization’s support comes from private entities, but it also receives donations from various governments around the world.

The Australian government is currently one of the largest donors to the organization’s humanitarian activities in the Gaza Strip, while the governments of the United States and Great Britain have previously given donations to these projects.

After Halabi’s arrest earlier this month, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade announced an investigation into whether donations from Australia to World Vision had been transferred to Hamas. The U.S. State Department and the foreign ministries of Germany and other Western countries have also launched similar probes.

All of the countries announced that, pending the findings of their investigations, they were suspending all transfers of funds to World Vision and all cooperation with the organization.

The Western diplomats — who all asked to remain anonymous — noted that the ambassadors of Australia, Great Britain and the United States contacted the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem several times in recent weeks, requesting detailed information about the suspicions concerning World Vision’s activity in the Gaza Strip.

For example, on August 9, the director general of the Australian foreign affairs department wrote to Gold, his counterpart in Jerusalem, stressing that Australia was very concerned about the news regarding World Vision’s conduct, and had suspended its cooperation with the organization and launched an investigation. The Australian official requested detailed information that would help the investigation into alleged misuse of donations from his country and their transfer to Hamas.

On August 12, the Australian Embassy sent another letter to the Foreign Ministry, again asking for any information pointing to the transfer of donated funds from Australia via any international aid organization to Hamas or other terror organizations in Gaza. The Australians asked to receive the information by August 19, based on the timetable of their investigation into the matter.

The ambassadors of the United States, Great Britain and other countries made similar verbal requests to senior people at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, but say they are yet to receive a response.