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World Vision Shuts Down Gaza Office After Employee Indicted for Redirecting Millions to Hamas

World Vision Shuts Down Gaza Office After Employee Indicted for Redirecting Millions to Hamas

Palestinian Mohammad El Halabi (C), a manager of operations in the Gaza Strip for U.S.-based Christian charity World Vision, accused by Israel of funnelling millions of dollars in aid money to Hamas in Gaza, a charge denied by the Islamist militant group, is seen before a hearing at the Beersheba district court in southern Israel, August 4, 2016. |

The Christian charity World Vision has laid off 120 Gaza employees and shut down its projects in the region after indictment of one of its employees by Israel for allegedly funnelling millions of dollars from its budget to the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas.

"They informed 120 employees from World Vision in Gaza they were officially cancelling their contracts and stopping all their projects in the enclave," an anonymous employee of the organization told The Guardian. "The head of the NGO in Palestine and a number of foreign staff met on August 9 with Palestinian employees in the Gaza office and gave them documents to sign which they did."

While senior employees would still be given partial salaries, other staff would be taken back after the crisis is resolved, the source added.

Israeli security officials arrested the operations manager of World Vision's Gaza branch, Mohammed El Halabi, on June 15 at the Israeli-Gaza border before formally charging him on August 4 with providing material support to Hamas in the range of tens of millions of dollars over the course of several years, allegedly from World Vision's budget.

An unnamed senior official with Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service, earlier told The New York Times that Hamas had recruited Halabi 12 years ago and instructed him to infiltrate the Christian charity. By 2010 Halabi had become the manager of their operations in Gaza and had summarily begun to divert around 60 percent of their annual budget to the terror group.

Such allegations led World Vision International to suspend its operations in Gaza and some major donors, such as Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, withheld their support until a thorough investigation was completed.

Shin Bet further alleged that Hamas used those embezzled monies to purchase weapons and dig cross-border terror tunnels for the purpose of attacking Israel. Halabi is also accused of starting a dubious "greenhouse project" in order to conceal excavation sites of those terror tunnels.

However, in a statement posted online last month, World Vision International CEO Kevin Jenkins said his group's "cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past 10 years was approximately $22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50 million being diverted hard to reconcile." He added that up until 2014, Halabi managed "only portions" of the Gaza budget and management positions at that level are not permitted to sign off on expenses over $15,000, and claimed the numbers don't add up.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz also reported around the time that it learned that during Halabi's lengthy interrogations he had "intentionally 'confessed' to things that were impossible: for example, transfer of sums of money that would have been inappropriate in terms of the overall budget of the branch in Gaza where he worked and his responsibilities."

State scrutiny of NGOs had also increased in recent months, leading some to wonder if the charges against World Vision are politically motivated in order to discredit and undermine the group since a past leader had openly voiced criticism of the Israeli government.

In his statement, Jenkins added, "It is tragic that this issue is taking us away from our work on important issues of injustice and poverty affecting billions of children around the world. We are committed to acting in a way that is transparent, respectful of the ongoing legal process, upholds our values as an organization, and builds trust in humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and around the world."

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