WORLD Vision announced last week that it had suspended its operations in Gaza, following allegations that the global charity’s local director had siphoned millions of dollars of aid money to the military wing of Hamas.
Arrested in June, Mohammed El-Halabi, was formally charged by Israeli authorities last Thursday, prompting the Australian and German governments to freeze their funding for the Christian humanitarian aid group.
It’s alleged El-Halabi had diverted up to $US7.2 million ($A9.4 million) a year over more than five years, intended for the needy, to fill the coffers of Hamas, helping fund the construction of terror tunnels and the purchase of arms.
Australia has given World Vision around $5 million over the past five years for projects in Gaza.
Describing the allegations as “deeply troubling”, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesperson said last Friday officials were seeking more information from World Vision and Israel.
“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,” the spokesperson said.
Israel’s Embassy in Canberra described El-Halabi as a Hamas agent dispatched in 2005 to infiltrate World Vision in Gaza and divert funds to Hamas’s military arm.
As he rose in seniority, the embassy said, he “employed a -sophisticated and systematic apparatus for transferring World Vision funds to Hamas … exploiting humanitarian projects and fictitious agricultural associations that acted as a cover for the transfer of funds”.
The embassy added, “The humanitarian aid donated for the residents of the Gaza Strip was in actual fact given almost exclusively to Hamas terrorists and their families.”
Zionist Federation of Australia president Danny Lamm said, “If proved to be true, this raises some major questions about aid organisations currently active in Gaza and the way they operate by hiring locals to oversee their operations.”
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said: “The last thing Gazans need is another round of deadly and destructive fighting – yet Hamas appears to be diverting -well-intentioned aid, including it seems Australian taxpayer money, to prepare for exactly this.”
Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Centre, an Israeli civil-rights group, recalled its advice in 2012 that World Vision’s aid money was being transferred to front charities of Palestinian terror groups in Gaza but that the Australian government and World Vision had rejected its warning, which was repeated in 2015.
“Who knows how many of Hamas’s missiles and stabbing attacks were funded by World Vision after they were put on notice that they were financing Palestinian terror?” Shurat HaDin’s president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner queried.
Citing “regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and a broad range of internal controls aimed at ensuring that assets reach their intended beneficiaries”, World Vision Australia’s chief executive Tim Costello said last Friday, “Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Jenkins, president of World Vision International said on Tuesday, “Due to the seriousness of the allegations, World Vision has already suspended operations in Gaza. We are conducting a full review, including an externally conducted forensic audit, and will remain fully engaged with the investigation that is underway.”
However, casting doubt on the allegations, he noted, “World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past 10 years was approximately $US22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $US50 million being diverted hard to reconcile.”