A Palestinian aid worker has been sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison on counts of terrorism by an Israeli court. Mohammed al-Halabi, a former Gaza director of the major Christian aid charity World Vision, is alleged to have diverted funds of up to $50 million to the terrorist organization Hamas. The verdict has drawn worldwide condemnation from human rights agencies, with many criticizing the secretive nature of the 6-year long trial and the lack of declassified evidence.
Al-Halabi, a father of five, has been in custody since his arrest by Israeli forces at his workplace in 2016, and will now serve an additional six years in prison. The trial itself was shrouded in secrecy, with much of the evidence, including the 254-page ruling, remaining classified. Much of the case hinges on al-Halabi’s confession, which was acquired under suspicious circumstances and has since been rescinded. A group of UN experts stated that al-Halabi was pressured to confess and his statement was extracted under threats of serious violence. The group believed the practice “flagrantly deviates from the international human rights standards and should have been inadmissible as evidence.” The use of solitary confinement, duress and coercion to produce a confession led to conditions that the same group to conclude that his treatment “may amount to torture”.
The allegations against al-Halabi are far-reaching and, in many cases, impossible. The Israeli court has stated that the aid worker was first recruited by the Izz al-Din al-Quassan brigade, the military wing of Hamas, and was ordered to infiltrate World Vision to divert funding. The court alleges that, amongst other things, he transferred “thousands of tonnes of iron” intended for agricultural purposes to Hamas, in order to assist Hamas in building tunnels beneath the Israel-Palestine border. World Vision has never imported iron into Gaza. Similar inconsistencies can be found in the other charges. World Vision, a major aid agency that supports humanitarian needs worldwide, conducted an independent, forensic audit of their Gaza program. The audit, performed by the firm Deloitte and American law firm DLA Piper, found no evidence of wrongdoing. A similar investigation from the government of Australia, a major doner of World Vision, came to the same conclusions.
The claims of the Israeli court against Mr. al-Halabi have been rebuked at every turn, yet the courts offer nothing concrete to support their sentence. The logical conclusion, then, is that al-Halabi has befallen the same fate as approximately 4,700 Palestinians currently imprisoned by Israel. His story, although unjust and infuriating, is nothing new for the humanitarian workers of Gaza. In August of this year, Israel closed seven Palestinian organizations on similar charges of diverting funds to militant terrorist groups in a move that was also criticized by the UN. The groups, which included the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association and Defense for Children International, had their offices raided and equipment confiscated by Israeli forces. In an impoverished country where two-thirds of the population rely on humanitarian aid, these actions are nothing short of deplorable.
Al-Halabi plans to appeal the sentence in the Israeli Supreme Court. In their statement, World Vision expressed their support for him in the appeal, as well as condemning the sentence itself. The charity has provided al-Halabi with funding throughout his court case, giving him a support that not many Palestinians going through the Israeli courts have. Upon al-Halabi’s arrest, the then-prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, released a special address on his YouTube channel. In it, he decried Hamas for stealing aid from Palestinian children to kill Israeli children.
He proclaimed that he cared more about Palestinians than their own leaders. A Guardian report released a year ago details the struggle of al-Halabi’s family to get him released. He has not been with his family since 2016, and his youngest son, an infant when al-Halabi was taken into custody, has never really known him. Now, without immediate just action on Israel’s part, it will be six more years until Faris al-Halabi can meet his father.
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