The Be’ersheva District Court’s conviction of Mohammad El-Halabi for diverting aid money and resources from the international humanitarian organization World Vision to Hamas, highlights fundamental vulnerabilities of a multi-billion dollar NGO aid industry that remains largely unregulated and unexamined, according to Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor.
El-Halabi, the former manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, was arrested by Israeli authorities in June 2016 and charged with diverting $50 million to terrorist organizations for construction of tunnels and other terrorist activity. According to the indictment, El-Halabi used humanitarian projects and agricultural associations to act as a cover for the hijacking of monies and materials to Hamas. Claims by officials of World Vision Australia, which received funds from the Australian government, were inconsistent with records published by different branches of World Vision, as demonstrated by NGO Monitor. Specifically, World Vision documents reported an income of $133 million for Jerusalem-West Bank-Gaza, but only $84 million in expenses.
President of NGO Monitor Professor Gerald Steinberg noted: ” The verdict is a reminder of the centrality of due diligence and credible oversight in the future to prevent the abuse of aid for terror in the region. To avoid enabling murderous Hamas attacks, which also compounds the suffering of Gaza residents, aid groups must implement rigorous vetting procedures, particularly regarding employees and their activities. If they cannot or will not do so, they should not be funneling more money into territory controlled by a terrorist entity.”
From the outset, NGO Monitor researchers identified inconsistencies and complications in World Vision’s public statements about the case and its operations in the region. World Vision has multiple entities with unclear responsibilities that are active in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, adding to the complexity inherent in assuring independent oversight and verification.
One of these World Vision entities, an Israeli-registered non-profit, is facing dissolution for financial mismanagement and noncompliance with local regulations. Following a multi-year investigation and an independent audit, on November 3, 2021, the Israeli Registrar of Nonprofits petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to dissolve this non-profit.
In justifying this petition, the Registrar alleged that the local non-profit did not implement humanitarian projects as claimed, and conducted financial transactions for purposes other than its stated goals – including providing funds to Hamas members.
NGO Monitor had previously identified World Vision operations in Gaza as susceptible to aid diversion in its 2015 book, Filling in the Blanks, noting “World Vision’s willingness to negotiate and coordinate with armed groups. This raises questions as to whether the group would prevent components of its aid from being misappropriated by terrorist organizations, if it felt that taking a stand would jeopardize the organization’s ability to continue its operations in a given area.”
Prof. Gerald Steinberg concluded that: “While World Vision is currently the focus of attention following the conviction of El-Halabi and the scale of the allegations, this should be a cautionary moment for the other international aid organizations operating in Gaza, such as Oxfam, Care, and Christian Aid, as well as UN agencies such as UNRWA and OCHA.”