On June 15, 2022, Mohammad El-Halabi was convicted in the Beersheva District Court of diverting funds and materials to Hamas for terror purposes. At the time of his arrest in 2016, El-Halabi was the head of World Vision – an international, church-based aid organization – in Gaza.
Beyond the accusations leveled against El-Halabi, the verdict highlights World Vision’s failure to properly supervise its operations in Hamas-controlled areas and protect its humanitarian aid from abuse. The judges criticized the NGO for its belief that internal processes could adequately identify embezzlement of the type that was proven to be done by El-Halabi – confirming NGO Monitor’s analysis from 2015 that World Vision was susceptible to aid diversion due to its willingness to negotiate and coordinate with armed groups.
Below are key points and quotes from a summary of the verdict that was released to the public. The summary consists of 23 pages; the classified verdict is 254 pages.
El-Halabi was convicted of:
- Contact with a foreign agent
- Membership in a terror organization: “The defendant took an active and significant part in the activities of Hamas and assisted Hamas over the years in a variety of ways, including transferring monies and equipment that he knew would be used to fund terrorism and assisting terrorists, as detailed in the indictment. The defendant even participated in military actions such as marking exit points for tunnel openings on the Israeli side of the Erez Crossing…”
- Illegal use of property for terror purposes
- Providing information to the enemy
- Illegal military training
- Possession of weapons and ammunition
Halabi was not convicted of aiding an enemy during wartime. (Israel’s Attorney General general recommends not applying this law to citizens of enemy countries and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza.)
Proof from a World Vision whistleblower
In 2015, a Gaza-based accountant for World Vision informed his employers that he suspected El-Halabi of diverting funds to assist Hamas. He was fired and then interrogated by Hamas. Damningly, El-Halabi had a copy of the interrogation on his personal computer.
- “…the complaint of Mohammed Mehdi, a WV (World Vision) accountant during the period relevant for the indictment, [who] alleged to the organization, inter alia, that the defendant used the organization’s money to assist Hamas. Mohammed Mehdi described the operative mechanisms that the defendant used, which were consistent with the operative mechanisms that were detailed by the defendant in his indictment.”
- “Furthermore, the circumstances of Mohammed Mehdi’s firing from the WV (World Vision) organization, his interrogation by Hamas and the discovery of his interrogation on the defendant’s personal computer that was seized by the Shabak also constitute a significant evidential addition to the defendant’s confession.”
Judges’ analysis of testimony from World Vision employees
- “They are apparently trapped in a preconceived notion that does not accord with the circumstances in the region, that their professionalism will absolutely and always prevent any fraud or abuse of faith…The Court does not give practical or operational advice in this field. However, given the circumstances, it appears that effective oversight should be based on the opposite assumption, that fraud and abuse can occur, particularly in a region controlled by a cruel regime, in the form of a terrorist organization that nearly has a state, whose resources – including economic resources – are inter alia, taken advantage of through trickery, threats, and force, for terrorist activity, including from organizations like World Vision.”
- “The insistence on the notion that the organization could not be deceived is liable to create a lack of vigilance to prevent deceit.”
- “The witnesses worked to deny any possibility of cracks in the organization’s oversight mechanisms that would allow money to pass to Hamas…The witnesses tried to downplay the description of the defendant’s authority, in order to deny the possibility that he carried out the actions ascribed to him. One should be cautious with such unequivocal statements. Life has proven time and time again that even in organizations with strong oversight measures, it is possible to commit fraud and deception.”
- “We cannot accept the defense’s central argument that due to the allegedly tight oversight at World Vision, there could not be fraud, deception, and transfer of funds to Hamas, as is ascribed to the defendant.”
- “No organization is immune from the possibility of fraud, even when the [realization of this] possibility requires exceptional efforts from the criminal. On top of that, we add the particular circumstances in Gaza, where a terrorist organization rules [the territory] and the ability to closely monitor developments is limited.”
- “All the more so when a significant portion of the organization’s oversight mechanisms rely on internal oversight of local Gaza committees, and on employees who are residents of Gaza and, one way or another, are under Hamas’ authority. From the testimony of the defense witnesses, it emerges that the main oversight mechanism is located outside of Gaza, and largely operates by ‘remote control,’ by reviewing documents received from elements in Gaza. In practice, all of the defendant’s activities were based on, inter alia, taking advantage of the distance [from oversight bodies] and the remote control oversight and the possibility to manipulate figures with the assistance of internal elements in Gaza, and presenting a false narrative to the organization’s oversight mechanisms that trust him and his judgment, and greatly respect him.”
- “With respect to the claims of defense witnesses, according to which it would have been impossible for the defendant to circumvent the organization’s monitoring and oversight mechanisms, the organization has significant interest not to recognize and to deny this possibility. While we certainly believe that the organization is staunchly opposed to the possibility that its funds will be transferred to terrorist organizations, as its mission is humanitarian aid – recognition of the potential for diversion of funds to terrorist organization would place a heavy cloud over the organization’s activities, and would pose a risk to its operations. There is substantial interest [to reject this possibility] that, naturally, appears to be part of the rationale behind the testimony of defense witnesses…Review of the evidence paints a different picture than that presented by the defense witnesses. The defendant ran the organization in Gaza and it appears he had broad and substantial authority in the organization and was involved in all matters.”
Judges’ Assessment of El-Halabi’s Credibility
- “In our estimation, the defendant is intelligent, dispassionate, and measured. His testimony made a very poor impression. His account changed over the course of his testimony in accordance with the questions he was asked, and in order to justify his lies, the defendant repeatedly tripped himself up with his answers. The defendant made contradictory and illogical statements in an attempt to explain away his detailed confession and the information he provided that indicate involvement in Hamas, and the explanations he provided regarding his method for deceiving World Vision and providing funds to Hamas.”
- “During the defendant’s testimony, we commented on several occasions that he was avoiding answering the Prosecutor’s questions, and was repeating his general account [of the events] irrespective of the questions that were asked. Our overall assessment is that his court testimony is unreliable and that all of his efforts were directed towards convincing the Court that his confession was false, but his efforts failed.”
Appendix: Main allegations as appear in the indictment
- Hamas recruitment (1st and 12th counts of the indictment)
- According to the indictment, in 2004 or 2005, Hamas directed El-Halabi to join World Vision in order to exploit it to advance the needs and interests of the terrorist organization. This took place after El-Halabi had already joined a Hamas military unit.
- Around 2014, El-Halabi allegedly attempted to recruit a senior Save the Children employee in Gaza, Dr. Walid Musa, into Hamas. This was intended to provide Hamas with intelligence, such as “the identities of individuals appointed by the United States to sensitive positions in international organizations in the Gaza Strip,” as well as “the identities of the participants in security courses of these international organizations.”
- Terror tunnels and military installations (2nd and 3rd counts)
- The indictment describes how El-Halabi diverted World Vision aid materials to Hamas for the purpose of constructing and improving its terror tunnels. For this purpose, he is alleged to have provided the group with “hundreds or thousands” of tons of iron, plastic tubing for improving communications and electrical infrastructure in the tunnels, and digging implements.
- He is also charged with abusing World Vision funds and materials for the construction and improvement of other Hamas military installations. (3rd count) The indictment specifically names the “Eskalan” and “Filastin” outposts- the latter located near the Erez Crossing. For these purposes, he is alleged to have provided the group with iron and fencing equipment; funding to Hamas members; and plastic sheeting to conceal three tunnel openings within the “Eskalan” outpost by disguising the area as an agricultural hothouse.
- Diverting World Vision funds (5th count)
- The charge sheet claims that El-Halabi diverted millions of dollars of aid intended for “humanitarian needs, agriculture, education, and psychological support,” to Hamas.
- Intelligence gathering at the Erez Crossing (8th and 13th counts)
- The prosecution accuses El-Halabi of helping a Hamas military official identify and mark key points near the Erez Crossing. He allegedly did so knowing that these would be used for Hamas “military activity,” such as determining where to locate exits for Hamas terror tunnels in Israeli territory.
- Additionally, in 2010, El-Halabi was approached by a Hamas military official, who requested that he provide him with intelligence about the security arrangement at the Erez Crossing.
- Procurement of arms and diving equipment for Hamas (10th and 11th counts)
- El-Halabi allegedly provided $20,000-$30,000 to Hamas members for purchasing weapons. This took place during 2010-2013.
- El-Halabi is also accused of providing $3,000-$5,000 on two occasions to two Hamas members (one of whom was Halabi’s brother), for the procurement of oxygen tanks and wetsuits for Hamas’ naval commando unit, which expressed satisfaction with the quality of the diving tanks.
- Diverting humanitarian materials to Hamas members (6th count)
- El-Halabi is accused of ensuring that “the majority” of World Vision-funded packages of “food and hygiene products, blankets, etc.,” were “regularly provided” to members of Hamas military units, including during periods of armed conflict with Israel.
- Hiring Hamas members (7th count)
- During El-Halabi’s tenure at World Vision, he hired Hamas members to work for the aid agency, based on a list provided to him by a “senior” Hamas military official.
- He is also charged with allowing Hamas members to collect a World Vision salary, despite not actually working for the organization.
- El-Halabi allowed Hamas military members to collect “unemployment” stipends from World Vision, at the same time that they were actively involved in Hamas military activity, including surveilling the Israel-Gaza border and guard duty.
- Manipulating the tender process (4th count)
- El-Halabi is charged with awarding a large majority of tenders for World Vision projects to two local companies, Arkuma and Elatar. The prosecution claims that these companies were favorites of Halabi because of their willingness to overcharge World Vision and provide the leftover funds to El-Halabi, which he then delivered to Hamas members.
- Participation in military training (9th count)
- El-Halabi is accused of participating in Hamas training activities, including weapons use, in around 2014.
- Contributions to Hamas-linked institutions (14th count)
- In 2015, El-Halabi provided 300 shekels a month to charities run by Hamas members Muhammad Tatari and Ashraf Bazari.
- During 2015-2016, he made contributions of hundreds of shekels to a Hamas-run mosque.