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Israel’s ‘Unfair’ Trial: Suspected Hamas Agent Isn’t Getting Due Process, Says Amnesty

The Gaza director of a high-profile charity allegedly transferred tens of millions of dollars to Hamas.

Palestinian children hold posters of Mohammed Halabi (C), the Gaza director of World Vision, a major US-based Christian NGO, during a protest to support him in Gaza City on August 7, 2016.
Israel charged Halabi with having diverted millions of dollars in foreign aid to the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas and its armed wing.
The Shin Bet internal security service said $7.2 million (6.5 million euros) given to World Vision had been diverted to Hamas each year, with some of it funding the Gaza Strip rulers' military campaign against Israel. / AFP / MAHMUD HAMS        (Photo credit should read )
Palestinian children hold posters of Mohammed Halabi (C), the Gaza director of World Vision, a major US-based Christian NGO, during a protest to support him in Gaza City on August 7, 2016. Israel charged Halabi with having diverted millions of dollars in foreign aid to the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas and its armed wing. The Shin Bet internal security service said $7.2 million (6.5 million euros) given to World Vision had been diverted to Hamas each year, with some of it funding the Gaza Strip rulers' military campaign against Israel. / AFP / MAHMUD HAMS (Photo credit should read )

The allegations made by Israeli authorities against the Gaza director of World Vision, a Christian aid group, read like a spy novel: An ostensible do-gooder infiltrates the top levels of a prominent charity, diverts $43 million to Hamas, but gets caught, risking reputational damage for his employer, which Israelis have now labeled “an NGW, a nongovernmental war organization.”

But yet the plot thickens. On Tuesday, Israel held a secret pre-trial hearing for the suspected mole, Mohammed el-Halabi, in a legal process that rights groups have characterized as “very concerning.”

Israel’s decision so far to shroud his trial in secrecy has violated international standards and could result in an unfair verdict, said Madalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East.

Amnesty is concerned that Halabi “was detained for around three weeks without access to his lawyer.” The group is also concerned that Israeli interrogators extracted a confession from el-Halabi. “We’ve also seen reports in the press that he was forced to confess to the accusation that he belonged to Hamas,” said Mughrabi. She called upon Israel to investigate these claims and throw out any confession that might have been obtained under duress.

The Israeli government said it has to hold Halabi’s trial in secrecy because of security reasons, and denies that it has violated his due process rights. “It is standard practice anywhere around the world that cases related to security and terrorism be conducted behind closed doors, especially when sensitive intel is presented,” said Itai Bardov, a spokesperson for the Israeli embassy in Washington, in an email to Foreign Policy.

World Vision, the charity in Israeli crosshairs, has echoed Amnesty’s calls for a fair and open legal process, and expressed disbelief at the far-reaching accusations.

“If any of these allegations are proven to be true, we will take swift and decisive action. Unfortunately, we still have not seen any of the evidence,” said Kevin Jenkins, the CEO of World Vision, in a statement. He said that World Vision has suspended its operations in Gaza pending a full review of the allegations.

According to an unnamed senior official with Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, Hamas recruited Halabi in 2004 and instructed him to infiltrate the top ranks of World Vision, where he could exploit its budget and use its humanitarian work as cover for a military buildup. He is accused of financing weapons purchases and the construction of a military base as well as tunnels stretching deep into Israeli territory.

If true, the accusations could tarnish World Vision’s reputation and complicate future efforts to deliver aid to Palestine. In addition to the money transfers, Halabi allegedly initiated a greenhouse project to conceal tunnel work and diverted motorboats and diving suits intended for struggling fishermen to Hamas’s marine unit, as well as food aid to soldiers instead of poor families.

But World Vision has pointed out what it says are possible holes in Israel’s story. The amount Israel accuses Halabi of stealing over the last five years — more than $40 million — would almost double the group’s total budget for Gaza — at $22.5 million — over the past ten years, it said, making it “hard to reconcile” with the facts.

Additionally, the group said that managers like Halabi are authorized to spend only up to $15,000 at a time, casting further doubt over whether he was able to spend as much as Israel says he did.

Days after Halabi’s arrest, Israel detained a U.N. development worker for allegedly helping Hamas build a military jetty and also accused Halabi of recruiting a Save the Children employee.

Halabi has not yet spoken in court but intends to plead not guilty, according to his lawyer. The case will resume in early October.

Photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

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