After several years of accusing Israel of persecuting one of its managers, it has now been revealed that Muhammad Halabi, a former senior employee of World Vision International, had diverted more than $50 million intended to help the civilians of Gaza, to terrorist organizations including Hamas.
El Halabi, a Palestinian aid worker and Gaza manager for World Vision International was arrested by Israel in 2016 and charged with channeling funds to Hamas based on evidence collected by the Shin Bet intelligence agency that he had siphoned off $48 million, 60% of World Vision’s Gaza budget, in funds from the organization’s budget, over the course of six years. The Israeli indictment and media reported that these funds were used in the construction of Hamas tunnels, military installations, and other terrorist activities.
World Vision denied the allegations of financial irregularity, stating that all of its operations were properly overseen and audited while describing Halabi as a well-regarded humanitarian. World Vision claimed their entire budget for Gaza did not exceed $22.5 million and El Halabi’s position only gave him access to $15,000.
In the same year, the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits served the organization with a notice, warning that it had failed to comply with transparency regulations regarding the use of its funds, in addition to failing to submit the necessary documentation to the Registrar.
Halabi confessed to two separate parties nearly two weeks apart but later recanted, claiming he confessed under duress. A confession implicating Halabi was discovered on Halabi’s computer which recorded confessions made by Mohammed Mehdi, a World Vision accountant, to Hamas interrogators. Many details regarding much of the investigation are undisclosed as the witnesses may be vulnerable to Hamas.
According to the prosecution, there were thirty-five individuals available to give testimony against Halabi.
An independent forensic audit commissioned by World Vision found no evidence that funds had been diverted. A study by the Australian government concluded that the Australian government had no “awareness” of any wrongdoing by Halabi
A study by the Australian government and an independent forensic audit commissioned by World Vision found no evidence that funds had been diverted. El Halabi’s arrest was also decried by the special rapporteurs who demanded his release.
The verdict of the Israeli court confirmed that funds from multiple states to Gaza, including Britain, Germany, and the United States, were also stolen. Public financial reports produced by World Vision indicate that U.S. funds were sent to Gaza as well as Judea and Samaria during this time frame.
In 2022, he was found guilty of “membership of a terrorist organization, financing terrorist activities, having “transmitted information to the enemy”, and possession of a weapon”.
Indeed, this is not the first time World Vision funding has been diverted to terrorist organizations. The Middle East Forum reported the following cases:
- In 2018, World Vision got caught funding a U.S.-designated terror group, Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA/IARA/IRA) in Sudan. The U.S. Treasury Department determined in its terror designation that ISRA “commingled funds and cooperated closely in the raising and expenditure of funds” alongside Osama bin Laden’s Maktab Al-Khidmat, “the precursor organization of al Qaida.” ISRA also sent funds to Hamas for terror activities and operated closely with Sudan’s then-President Omar al-Bashir.
- When U.S. officials discovered that World Vision was funding a designated terror group, they ordered WV to stop paying ISRA, but WV maintained its relationship with the organization. In January 2015, WV said it had “discontinued any future collaboration.” Yet almost a year later, WV posted a job position working with ISRA in December 2015, apparently indicating it had not ceased collaborating as it claimed.
- “In 2012, World Vision was exposed using Australian government dollars to fund a terrorist front group operating in the West Bank. World Vision was funding the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), a front group for the U.S. terror designated Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).”
- In 2010, World Vision partnered with a group headed by a PFLP operative, Khaled Yamani, who led the Palestinian Children and Youth Foundation in Lebanon. And a few years prior to that, WV signed joint memoranda with the U.S. designated terror group Interpal, a financial supporter of Hamas.
The Middle East Forum concluded the following:
“While Halabi is in prison and no World Vision funds currently go to Gaza, the scandal exposed the extent to which terrorist groups can exploit international good will to their murderous ends. As long as World Vision does not acknowledge this reality and continues to operate in conflict-heavy areas, its aid programs are likely to fund terrorist activities on occasion. It is, therefore, incumbent on its donors—be they individuals, churches, or government agencies—to let the organization know they will not tolerate this behavior and to urge it to self-reform. If the organization does not regulate itself, others, starting with Congress, should do it for them.”
Faith McDonnell, director of Advocacy with Katartismos Global and a 30-year veteran in the fight to promote religious freedom and human rights, told MEF, “To see this activity from World Vision in Sudan and then continuing in Israel too—it just makes me wonder: ‘What kind of Christians are supporting a group that is funding terrorists?'”