The Beersheba district court in southern Israel on Tuesday sentenced former Palestinian aid worker with World Vision to 12 years in prison on allegations of “financing terrorism”.
Mohammed El-Halabi’s lawyer, Maher Hana, said that he would appeal the conviction to the Supreme Court as much of the evidence against him was kept secret, with Israel citing “security concerns”, prompting his legal team to question the verdict’s legitimacy.
Both El-Halabi and World Vision have denied the allegations and an independent audit in 2017 also found no evidence that support Israel’s claims that El-Halabi was funnelling donations to Hamas.
“The 12-year sentence announced today in the trial of Mohammed El-Halabi is deeply disappointing and in sharp contrast to the evidence and facts of the case,” said World Vision.
The humanitarian group said: “World Vision emphatically condemns any and all acts of terrorism or support for such activities. We reject any attempt to divert humanitarian resources or exploit the work of aid organisations operating anywhere, and we do not see evidence of these things in this case.”
The arrest, six-year trial, unjust verdict and this sentence are emblematic of actions that hinder humanitarian work in Gaza and the West Bank.
Internal investigations by World Vision and the Australian government – one of the charity’s major funders – found no evidence that El-Halabi has done anything wrong or illegal. World Vision is said to have paid a staggering $7 million to hire a forensic auditing firm to investigate Israel’s false accusations against the NGO.
These investigations completely exonerated El-Halabi and even found that he had gone out of his way to distance the charity from Hamas. He is not a supporter of the Palestinian faction, which Israel alleges was given World Vision funds by the aid worker.
The real purpose of the 12-year sentence, said Hanna, is to “make life more difficult in Gaza.”
“Israel is putting pressure on the people, which puts pressure on Hamas, which compels them to commit to more and more cooperation with Israel,” he added.
Following El-Halabi’s arrest in 2016, World Vision suspended its Gaza operations, shutting down psychosocial programming for 40,000 children, as well as the provision of medical supplies and food relief.