World Vision: Israeli Claim That Hamas Siphoned Funds From Gazan Charity Doesn't Add Up

Israel says World Vision's Gaza director funneled $7.2m a year to Hamas for five years in a row, but Christian organization says sum surpasses its budget for a decade.

AFP

The international charity World Vision says that the sums its Gaza Strip director is accused of funneling to Hamas are impossibly high. The director, Mohammed Halabi, is currently in Israeli detention.

According to the Christian charity, which denies the allegations, the sum Halabi is accused of siphoning off to Hamas' military wing far surpasses the organization's actual budget for the past decade.  

As first published last Thursday, the Shin Bet security agency accuses the charity of transferring about 60% of its Gaza budget to the Hamas military arm each year. Halabi, it says, has confessed to rerouting about $7.2 million a year to Hamas over the past five years.

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

But World Vision Germany spokeswoman Silvia Holten said in Germany on Monday that the charity's Gaza budget totaled $22.5 million in the last decade – well under the Shin Bet estimate of Halabi's alleged transfers to Hamas.

According to Holten, there is a "huge gap" in the numbers. World Vision has halted its Gaza operations while the issue is investigated.

The extent of money transferred to Hamas, in cash and checks, was detailed during Halabi's questioning by the Shin Bet, which also seized documents about the route of the money during a raid of the charity's offices in East Jerusalem.

The Shin Bet claims that part of the money reached Hamas through the fictitious employment of Hamas operatives in Gaza.

Last week a top Shin Bet source commented that the agency suspects fraud totaling tens of millions of dollars, plus the transfer of goods of equivalent value, over six years.

Germany and Australia have suspended donations to World Vision in Gaza.

The charge sheet says that Halabi, who holds a masters in engineering, joined Hamas's armed wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, in 2004 and was asked a year later to infiltrate a humanitarian organization so as "to be close to decision makers in a foreign organization, to be involved in the group and operate secretly to advance al-Qassam's interests."

The Shin Bet accuses Halabi of joining World Vision and sending its funds to Hamas’ military wing, saying some of the funds were used for financing military-related tunnels and the purchase of weapons.

The Shin Bet alleges that a sum of $80,000 contributed by British donors to assist needy families and support civilian projects in Gaza were used to build a Hamas position in the Gaza town of Beit Hanun, to pay Hamas activists’ salaries and bonuses members who had fought against Israel in the 2014 war.

Holten said the World Vision budget includes all in-kind donations, but she did not provide a detailed report of the organization's spending in Gaza in recent years. She said World Vision performs stringent internal audits and commissions external audits from outside companies as well.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon speculated that World Vision's budget does not include in-kind donations.

"They are trying to belittle their role and to show they are much smaller than they really are," Nahshon said of World Vision. He did not provide proof of his claim, but said Halabi's legal team will have access to the evidence. He added that Halabi confessed to his crimes.

Halabi's father has denied he is a member of Hamas. A spokesman for Hamas in Gaza, Hazem Qasem, has called the allegations "lies."

Palestinian media reported Halaby's arrest two months ago, when he was taken into custody at the Erez Crossing by the Shin Bet. His family said at the time they had no idea why he was arrested and what crimes he was being blamed for.

Halabi's attorney Mohammed Mahmoud told Haaretz on Thursday his client denies any links to Hamas, and that the fact the investigation has lasted 55 days proves there's a problem with the evidence.

Mahmoud said Halabi has told his investigators that the entire Gaza Strip is under absolute Hamas rule and armed members of the organization take whatever they want form the organization's storage depots.