Allegations by Israel that the manager of a Christian aid organization in the Gaza Strip funnelled millions of dollars to the military wing of Hamas are extremely serious.
This flagrant misuse of charitable funds raises hard and uncomfortable questions whether World Vision — an international Christian aid group with headquarters in the United States and Britain — can properly monitor and supervize its operations in Gaza and elsewhere.
Working in almost in 100 countries, World Vision is one of the largest relief organizations in the world, with an operating budget of about $2.6 billion and some 50,000 employees. It has had a branch in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank since the 1970s.
If World Vision cannot prevent aid diversion, what can one expect of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, Oxfam and Care? All these non-governmental organizations maintain offices in Gaza.
Israel was well within its rights to arrest Mohammed El Halibi, the Palestinian who oversaw World Vision’s operations in Gaza, which has been fully controlled by Hamas since June 2007. Halibi, who was reportedly recruited by Hamas 12 years ago, was arrested nearly three months ago at the Erez crossing point between Gaza and Israel.
According to the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, Halibi diverted $43 million over the past six years from the coffers of World Vision, which apparently had no knowledge of his illicit activities.
Incredibly enough, Hamas used the money to build cross-border attack tunnels, construct a military base and purchase motor boats and diving suits for its marine unit. In addition, 2,500 food packages bound for impoverished families in Gaza were commandeered by Hamas’ military wing.
As may be recalled, the attack tunnels were cited by the Israeli government as the main reason why Israel invaded Gaza in the summer of 2014. Hamas’ bombardment of Israeli communities along the border, of course, was another cause of the war.
Halibi thus played a key role in helping to prepare the ground for a conflict that proved to be highly destructive in terms of lives lost and property destroyed. He blatantly took advantage of his position and thus undermined World Vision’s humanitarian objectives in Gaza, one of which is to help children traumatized by war.
“Hamas stole tens of millions of dollars from disabled and poor Palestinian children to build a war machine,” charged Israeli government spokesman David Keyes, homing in on an issue that requires further exploration.
The Halibi affair should set off alarm bells.
International aid organizations in war zones are susceptible to theft, if not extortion. If they fail to put in place intelligence and surveillance technologies to monitor their employees, they have only themselves to blame.
In the meantime, Halibi is in Israel’s custody pending a trial. Hamas, which duped and betrayed World Vision, has predictably dismissed Israel’s accusations as a “false story.” But it seems abundantly clear that Halibi abused his authority to commit a crime of considerable proportions.
If justice is to be fully served, Halibi should pay dearly for his cynical breach of trust, and Hamas should be made to return the stolen funds.