A manager of the World Vision office in Gaza has been charged with using millions of dollars of charity funds to support Hamas fighters in the region.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a statement that says, “World Vision has received Australian funds for programs in the Palestinian Territories.”
Mohammad El Halabi was arrested on 15 June, as he returned home from routine meetings. After being kept in Israeli state detention for 50 days, Halabi was charged with providing support to Hamas, a militant Palestinian organisation fighting to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation.
CEO of World Vision Australia Tim Costello said in an interview with the ABC, “We are absolutely shocked and profoundly perplexed by these allegations.
“Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true. We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence,” a statement from World Vision reads.
“We want to know the truth. We’re glad now that he has been charged … we have heard one side – these charges, they’re only allegations. There is always another side, and a court process is the right way for us to find out the truth.” – Tim Costello
Halabi has worked with World Vision in the Palestinian Territories for 10 years, six of those years as director of World Vision operations in Gaza.
The Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet claims that since taking over the charitable organisations operations in Gaza in 2010, he has diverted 60 per cent of the annual budget to Hamas.
In the statement, World Vision Australia said, “World Vision 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.
“World Vision has detailed procedures and control mechanisms in place to ensure that the funds entrusted to us are spent in accordance with applicable legal requirements and in ways that do not fuel conflict but rather contribute to peace.”
DFAT has suspended its funding of World Vision in the Palestinian Territories until an investigation into the allegations has been completed.
In a statement DFAT said, “Australia’s aid to the Palestinian Territories is intended for vital humanitarian and development assistance to the Palestinian community. Any diversion of the generous support of the Australian and international community for military or terrorist purposes by Hamas is to be deplored and can only harm the Palestinian people.”
Costello said, “DFAT has done the right thing. I’d be doing that too. When you have such serious charges you should suspend it.
“We want to know the truth. We’re glad now that he has been charged … we have heard one side – these charges, they’re only allegations. There is always another side, and a court process is the right way for us to find out the truth,” said Costello.
This is the second time World Vision has been caught up in accusations of supporting militant organisations fighting for the liberation of Palestine.
In early 2012 the Israeli Law Centre, Shurat HaDin, called on World Vision Australia to cease funding Gaza-based charity the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), claiming that there was “conclusive evidence” showing UAWC was supporting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an organisation also seeking the liberation of Palestine through armed conflict.
In response, World Vision Australia suspended activities with the UAWC, despite being only 18 months into a five-year program to support the organisation that helps deliver plant and seedling nurseries to provide food security to thousands of low-income houses in the West Bank and Gaza.
By the end of May 2012, AusAID, who delivered the money to UAWC, announced they had found no evidence to support the claims of Shurat HaDin.
Later in 2012, World Vision Australia resumed funding the UAWC through AusAID.