The trial of World Vision employee Mohammad el-Halabi was delayed once again today, as an Israeli court delayed proceedings until 2 February due to new charges levelled against him by the state.
Israeli authorities have accused el-Halabi of funnelling more than $43 million dollars of World Vision's budget to Hamas's al-Qassam Brigades in the Gaza Strip, in a case that drew worldwide attention when the indictment was originally announced last August.
The day before the start of his trial, however, Israeli authorities announced two new charges against el-Halabi: aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war, and passing information to the enemy.
The fresh adjournment was expected, in light of the new charges. El-Halabi did not enter a plea at the Beersheva courthouse today.
In a statement released ahead of today's hearing, World Vision said it was "surprised" to see new charges "added at this stage in the process." The statement continued:
"World Vision is anxious to learn the truth behind all the charges, and if evidence of irregularities is found we will take swift and decisive action. To date, we have not seen any credible evidence to support the allegations against Mohammad El Halabi."
The statement concluded: "We continue to call for a fair and transparent legal process, which includes the public presentation of all relevant evidence in an open court."
El-Halabi was detained at the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip on 15 June, 2016, on his way back from a World Vision staff meeting in Jerusalem. He was prevented from seeing a lawyer for 21 days, during which time he was interrogated and tortured by Shin Bet officers.
El-Halabi was finally charged on 4 August, some seven weeks after he was first detained. Months later, however, and el-Halabi's legal team has still not been shown the full evidence file against him.
Just a few days after el-Halabi's indictment, Waheed Borsh, a Gaza-based employee of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was also charged with having been recruited by Hamas to deliberately divert construction material to the group's armed wing.
Since the charges against el-Halabi and Borsh were first made public, critics have expressed concern that the Israeli authorities may be using – or even fabricating – the cases for propaganda purposes.
After Borsh's recent conviction, for example, Israel's envoy at the United Nations, Danny Danon, tweeted that Borsh "admitted to helping Hamas' military wing build terror facilities", adding that "UN workers…[are] aiding terrorists groups" [sic].
In fact, even in the Israeli court, the most Borsh was convicted of was unintentionally aiding Hamas.
Danon's disregard for the facts is reminiscent of remarks made by Israeli government spokesperson Emmanual Nachshon last August; when asked about the reliability of the authorities' case against el-Halabi, the spokesperson replied that the exact details were irrelevant.
Meanwhile, Australia's ABC has learned that "despite the seriousness of the initial allegations", Israeli authorities recently offered el-Halabi a three-year plea deal. El-Halabi rejected the deal, however, and "his legal team said he was planning on pleading not guilty."
The fresh charges, according to a source cited by ABC, "were the result of the Israeli authorities failing to 'pressure' him into accepting a plea deal."
ABC also reported that Israel has named 35 individuals it says are willing to testify against the World Vision staffer, of whom 16 "are understood to be serving time in Israeli prisons."
Oddly, UNDP employee Borsh is among them, even though he has already testified that has "no evidence" of el-Halabi "committing any crimes".
Speaking to Middle East Monitor yesterday, Lea Tsemel, lawyer for both Borsh and el-Halabi, said the former had said nothing to his interrogators that would help the state's case against the latter.