An Israeli court in Beersheva charged an employee of a prominent Evangelical Christian aid organization on August 4th for transferring approximately $43 million of the charity’s funds to the terrorist organization Hamas. Mohammad el-Halabi worked as the Palestinian manager for the Gaza branch of World Vision, often using his ability to cross relatively easily from Gaza to Israel to move funds.
Israeli security forces arrested Mr. Halabi on June 14th as he attempted to pass through the Erez border crossing from Gaza into Israel. The Shin Bet raided the organization’s office in East Jerusalem, and found that Hamas’ military wing, the Al-Qasam Brigades, recruited Mr. Halabi in 2004. The group ordered him to “reach an influential position” and infiltrate the organization. Mr. Halabi became the director of the Gaza branch of World Vision in 2010, and during his six years in the position transferred a total of almost $50 million to Hamas, about 60 percent of the branch’s annual budget. Hamas operatives received the other 40 percent of funds in cash deposits, and only about $4 million a year went to actual aid.
Laundering techniques included conspiring with contractors for fake construction projects, for which Hamas would appear to win a bid, and then inflate prices, employ their own operatives, and then smuggle the funds. In Halabi’s own testimony, he indicated that the stolen money intended for community projects was used to build cross-border terror tunnels, purchase arms from the Sinai, construct a Hamas military base, and pay the salaries of operatives with the goal of, “building up the military wing [of Hamas].” Aid supplies and equipment such as food, cleaning supplies, and construction materials bought by World Vision were either undelivered or stolen and given directly to terrorist member’s families. Halabi gave additional evidence suggesting that his father, a senior official in charge of running schools and refugee camps for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), has also used his position to aid Hamas military activities.
Upon the initial arrest, the charity starkly defended Halabi, saying in a statement that he is “a widely respected and well regarded humanitarian” that displayed compassionate and diligent leadership for over a decade. During the investigation, Shin Bet found no evidence indicating that World Vision knew of the fraud and embezzlement. But the Israeli civil rights organization Shurat Ha’Din says it had warned World Vision officials about the misuse of funds as early as 2012.
World Vision launched projects in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1970’s, and is one of the largest U.S. based relief organizations. With a budget of over $2.6 billion, they employ about 50,000 workers that operate in almost 100 different countries.