A verdict issued by Israel’s Beersheva District Court on June 15, which convicted the aid organization World Vision’s Gaza manager Muhammad el-Halabi of a series of security-related offences, revealed many of the fundamental problems plaguing the humanitarian aid industry. The court described in stark terms how Halabi used his position to bolster Hamas’ military capabilities and pay salaries to its fighters, all under the guise of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Gazans.
The court determined that, while heading the NGO’s Gaza operations, Halabi aided Hamas in a variety of ways, including diverting World Vision building materials to Hamas military installations, doling out World Vision funds to the group’s fighters and securing equipment for terrorists.
The Halabi case highlights the ease with which an aid agency can be taken over by a terrorist organization. Due to Halabi’s position and the lack of effective supervision of World Vision operations in Gaza, his fraud and diversion of funds and equipment to terrorists were easily hidden. For example, an outside auditor would see vouchers provided to eligible Gazans, but did not know that recipients were armed Hamas members. Similarly, an auditor would identify equipment and materials that had been issued to construct a hothouse, but did not know that the structure was built to hide Hamas tunnels.
Even given such difficulties, the Israeli court’s verdict found World Vision’s monitoring woefully lacking, labelling it “remote control oversight.”
Frighteningly, World Vision’s one genuine attempt at responsible oversight was thwarted. According to the verdict, in 2015 a Gaza-based accountant for World Vision informed the organization about his concerns regarding the diversion of funds to Hamas. He was fired and then interrogated by Hamas. Halabi had a copy of the interrogation on his personal computer.