JERUSALEM, Thursday, June 16, 2022 (WAFA) – The World Vision Wednesday pointed to irregularities in the trial process of charity Gaza aid worker who has been on trial for six years over “terror” financing charges based on secret evidence and an alleged coerced confession.
The World Vision (WV) expressed in a press statement its “disappointment” over the decision of the Israeli District Court convicting Mohammad El Halabi.
The Israeli district court did not find El Halabi guilty of “assisting the enemy,” the most serious charge against him, according to his lawyer, who said that he would appeal the conviction at Israel’s high court. But in its 254-page classified ruling, the court finds El Halabi guilty of diverting funds from the international Christian charity World Vision, where he served as director of its Gaza office.
Multiple international audits have found no evidence that the father of five, hailed as a “humanitarian hero” by the United Nations before his arrest, diverted funds to armed groups in Gaza.
“We have previously expressed our significant concerns about this case, as noted in our prior statements,” the charity said.
“In our view there have been irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive, publicly available evidence,” World Vision added.
“We support [El Halabi’s] intent to appeal the decision, and call for a fair and transparent appeal process based on the facts of the case.”
It said that it was saddened that its work helping Gaza’s most vulnerable children has been disrupted for so long, and we hope to return to Gaza.
“We remain committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children in the region, and hope we will be able to advance our humanitarian work in the context of our longstanding cooperation with the relevant Israeli and Palestinian authorities.”
Israel convicted El Halabi despite international outcry over his arrest and prosecution.
Upon his arrest at Erez checkpoint on the northern Gaza frontier, Halabi was denied access to a lawyer for 50 days and held incommunicado.
The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has “continuously raised serious concerns” in El Halabi’s case over “cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment that may amount to torture.”
The UN office has also stressed the “lack of fair trial guarantees, including disregard of the presumption of innocence and lack of impartiality of the court, extensive use of secret evidence and classification of court proceedings undermining the right to a defense.”
Israel’s only piece of evidence is an alleged confession made “seemingly under duress” that the prosecution has referred to in public hearings, while the content of this alleged confession is being kept in secret from the public, the UN office adds.
The Australian government, which provided around a quarter of World Vision’s budget in Gaza between 2014 and 2016, commissioned an external audit that “found no evidence of diversion of funds and no material evidence that Halabi was part of or working for Hamas.”
During his trial, Halabi turned down numerous plea deals, refusing to admit guilt for a crime he insists he did not commit and, in the process, tarnish the reputation of World Vision.
An Israeli judge, pressing Halabi to accept a plea deal in 2017, told him that he has “little chance” of being found not guilty.
The Australian outlet ABC reported at the time that “sources close to Halabi’s legal team” said that “they believe the prosecution does not have the evidence to back up the explosive claims” against the aid worker.
A plea deal would have prevented Israel from having to prove its claims against Halabi in court.
Failing to secure a plea deal, Israel instead resorted to convicting Halabi on the basis of secret evidence. After his conviction hearing on Wednesday, Halabi’s lawyer said that the court’s ruling is secret and he can only review it in the presence of intelligence officers.
Israel’s manufactured case against Halabi would anticipate the “terror group” designations it made against several prominent Palestinian human rights and social services groups based in the West Bank last year.