Palestinian engineer Mohamed Halabi, 45, director of the International NGO World Vision in Gaza, was arrested in 2016 by Israeli security forces at the Erez border crossing while returning to the Strip after attending a work meeting in Jerusalem. The Shin Bet, an internal intelligence service, accused him of having diverted funds from the humanitarian organization amounting to more than 50 million euros for the Hamas militias, the Islamist movement that has de facto governed the coastal enclave since 2007. After six years of detention without trial, a court in Beersheva (southern Israel) has found him guilty this Wednesday of collaboration with a terrorist group, without yet setting a sentence – which will be announced next month -, which can lead to up to 20 years in prison . Organizations like Human Rights Watch They have questioned the validity of the long process against Halabi, “based above all on secret evidence” presented to the court by the intelligence services and which has not been made public “for reasons of national security”.
Jalil Halabi, 67, the father of the Gazan aid worker imprisoned in Israel, has led a campaign for the release of his son in which he has called on leaders and diplomats from around the world to intervene on his behalf to stop a “Kafkaesque process” . “Mohamed is innocent and does not accept the accusations, that is why he has rejected all the agreements with the Prosecutor’s Office that could release him in exchange for admitting his guilt,” he declared last month to EL PAÍS in his home in the capital of Gaza, converted in a kind of sanctuary, with photographs, posters and messages from someone who for a decade was the head of one of the main international NGOs operating in Palestine.
The fear of suffering the endless detention of the engineer Halabi led the Spanish humanitarian worker Juana Ruiz, 63, who spent 10 months in prison before being released last February, to agree to plead guilty to “collaboration with an illegal organization” and “currency trafficking in the West Bank”, despite being considered “completely innocent”. After spending the remaining three months of her sentence under house arrest in her family home near Belén, Juana Ruiz has been in Spain since this month.
The NGO World Vision, specialized in humanitarian aid to children and present in a hundred countries, carried out an external audit of the accounts of its delegation in Gaza in 2017 without having found any funds missing in any of the items managed by Halabi. For 10 years, the Palestinian engineer managed 22.5 million dollars (21.6 million euros). The auditors stressed that it was “difficult to reconcile” that sum with the amount of diverted money described in the Shin Bet indictment. The investigation ordered by the Government of Australia, one of World Vision’s main donors, also found no irregularities.
After being formally reprimanded by the Israeli Supreme Court for the slowness of Halabi’s process, the Beersheva court has convicted him on charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, with which he collaborated and to which he provided information; for participating in prohibited military exercises and for illegally carrying weapons. Maher Hanna, Halabi’s lawyer, confirmed that his client had received several offers to agree with the prosecution to be released, but rejected all of them because they did not recognize his innocence.
“WorldVision he is dissatisfied with Beersheva’s ruling against Mr. Halabi, and for this reason he is going to support the appeal that he intends to present before the Supreme Court,” Sharon Marshall, director of public relations for the NGO, declared at the door of the courthouse, quoted by Reuters. “In view of the evidence we have, we believe in his innocence,” she added.
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The Israeli government, then headed by the conservative Benjamin Netanyahu, took advantage of the arrest of the Palestinian aid worker in 2016 to question the activities of international NGOs in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967. A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs quoted by Efe has assured now that “any diversion of humanitarian funds for terrorist purposes is a reprehensible act at the expense of the welfare of Gazans.” “Israel will continue to use the tools at its disposal to prevent such crimes,” added the same diplomatic source,
Humanitarian organizations operating in Palestine have questioned Israel’s abusive use of anonymous informers and informants to bring charges against international and Palestinian NGOs. These criticisms are consistent with the data contained in the information that the Israeli Foreign Ministry itself provided to several European countries, and to which EL PAÍS had access, when several Palestinian civil society organizations were outlawed in 2021, including Work Committees for Health, to which Juana Ruiz belonged.
The NGO Human Rights Watch, based in New York, has described the guilty verdict against Halabi as “a judicial error, after six years of detention, based mainly on evidence declared secret and presented behind closed doors, which is a mockery of due legal process ”. James Heenan, director of the UN Human Rights Office for Palestine, has also expressed doubts about whether the process against the former director of World Vision in Gaza has been carried out in accordance with international criminal procedure standards.
The guilty verdict is largely based on a confession by the detainee, allegedly obtained in an interrogation by Shin Bet agents without legal assistance, under pressure and through ill-treatment, according to Halabi’s defense, which has already announced that it will appeal the judicial decision before the Supreme Court. The Beersheva court considers that Halabi’s confession “is consistent, specific and offers unique details not known before”, according to reports Jerusalem Post. The same newspaper, which gives a detailed account of the charges presented by the prosecution and admitted by the court, also reports that the defendant’s lawyer questions that the resolution does not include either the origin of the funds diverted to Hamas or their movements. The same court has issued an order declaring the content of a large part of the ruling secret “for reasons of national security”, which prevents its content from being made public.
“My son has had 170 hearings in six years, and 25 charges have been brought against him,” explained Jalil Halabi, a retired employee of Unrwa, the UN Palestinian refugee agency, in Gaza, in despair. tribulations of the detainee since 2016, married with five children. He showed EL PAÍS a few weeks before the trial thousands of emails to NGOs, letters to European ambassadors or US congressmen in favor of his son. “He was held incommunicado for 52 days, subjected to torture,” he denounced. “In the prison infirmary they only gave him a painkiller after suffering unbearable pain for weeks,” he added. “They accused him of collaborating with Hamas, but in this family we are all from Fatah (the nationalist party that controls the Palestinian Authority), and it was they (the Islamists) who kicked us out of power in Gaza 15 years ago now,” he protested loudly. Mohamed Halabi’s father broke.
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