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3 years and no conviction: Israel's prosecution of World Vision staffer drags on

Image of Mohammed El Halabi, World Vision's area development programme manager [Mohammad Awed]
Mohammed El Halabi, World Vision's area development programme manager, 8 August 2016 [Mohammad Awed / APA]

A senior official of international charity World Vision remains on trial in an Israeli court, three years after he was first arrested, tortured, and charged.

According to a new report published by +972 Magazine, since 2016, Israel has not provided any evidence to Mohammad El Halabi or World Vision to prove its case, "and yet Halabi's trial continues in an Israeli court, unresolved and with no end in sight".

"This case is unprecedented in the Israeli legal system," El Halabi's lawyer Maher Hanna said. "Israel knows that Halabi is innocent. Some Israeli officials told me that."

El Halabi, who was the World Vision manager for the Gaza Strip at the time of his arrest, has been accused by Israeli authorities of funnelling some $43 million from the NGO to Hamas.

"The picture that emerges from many pages of internal World Vision documents, rarely heard details of the court case, and a correspondence with Halabi himself," +972 Magazine stated, is that of "an innocent Palestinian being tortured, mistreated and pressured to capitulate to Israeli demands."

In addition, the report added, the case "also raises uncomfortable questions for many in the global and Israeli media who willingly accept Israeli government claims about Palestinians — even when there is no supporting evidence."

After his arrest in 2016, Israel held Halabi incommunicado for 50 days, during which time the NGO staffer was interrogated, tortured and held in solitary confinement.

Yet by contrast to the extraordinary allegations contained within the Israeli indictment, by 2017, an investigation by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) "concluded that there was no basis to support the claim that Halabi had diverted any Australian money to Hamas".

As noted by +972 Magazine, "World Vision has supported Halabi during the entire legal process, and two internal investigations found no evidence to support the Israeli allegations against him."

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According to a US-based spokesperson for World Vision, the organisation has "yet to see any substantive evidence to support the charges against Mohammed Halabi".

The trial began in August 2016 and there have been more than 100 court hearings thus far. In early 2017, the Israeli judge told El Halabi "that he should accept a plea deal because there was 'little chance' he wouldn't be convicted".

El Halabi believes he is being punished by the Israeli court for refusing to accept a plea deal.

According to the report, there are also substantial problems of due process. El Halabi's lawyer Hanna told the website: "I can't give him any materials to read," adding: "I can now visit him but only spend three to four hours with him and that's not enough,"

The report noted that "Halabi has not been allowed to testify in English, never receives accurate translations of the court proceedings, and Israeli authorities have consistently refused to record the hearings to assist in translation."

In addition, "one of the main obstacles in defending El Halabi is Israel's refusal to allow his attorney to visit Gaza and meet witnesses who could bolster his case. The court has also refused to grant permits for many Palestinian witnesses from Gaza who want to testify in Halabi's defence."

Read: Israel's World Vision crime sham

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