What's really behind Israel's attack on Christian charity World Vision?
The Electronic Intifada
Israel grabbed global headlines on Thursday with sensational allegations that tens of millions of dollars from the Christian relief and advocacy organization World Vision had been diverted to the military wing of the resistance group Hamas in Gaza.
But a day later, the Israeli claims look more than ever like sloppy propaganda. A World Vision official says Israel’s sums don’t add up and it has also emerged that a Mossad-linked Israeli group has been stoking allegations against the charity for years.
An Israeli general has said that Israel is relying on a “confession” extracted by an intelligence agency which is notorious for using torture.
Israel has also instructed its diplomats to smear World Vision, especially among Christian communities around the world.
But if Israel’s intention was to damage international humanitarian efforts in Gaza, it can chalk up a success, at least for now.
Australia, which has given World Vision about $5 million in the last three years for projects in Gaza, said it was suspending contributions pending an investigation.
Indeed, ending humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, or at least bringing it under even tighter Israeli control, looks like the purpose of the allegations.
“It doesn’t add up”
In June, Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency arrested World Vision’s Gaza director Mohammad El Halabi and interrogated him for more than 50 days, a fact that only came to light this week.
Israel claims Halabi had diverted up to $50 million to Hamas over the last six years.
But on Friday, the CEO of World Vision Australia said this could not be the case.
Tim Costello told Australia’s SBS public broadcaster that World Vision’s program in Gaza amounts to only around $2 to $3 million a year.
“If every cent has been diverted, it doesn’t add up to $50 million,” he said.
“I’ve been there, the [Australian] Department of Foreign Affairs has been there, PwC [professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers] audit our books,” Costello added.
“After a long investigation, it’s clear that Hamas is using the money which the world donates to international organizations such as World Vision in Gaza, and the evidence is the confession of the detainee Mohammad El Halabi, the director of the organization in Gaza, that he was transferring money to Hamas, millions of dollars,” General Yoav Mordechai, the head of COGAT, Israel’s military occupation bureacracy that rules the lives of millions of Palestinians, said, according to SBS.
But this apparent reliance on an alleged confession is deeply troubling, not least to World Vision’s Costello.
“It certainly concerns me that a person can be in detention for 25 days without seeing a lawyer,” Costello told ABC. “Over 50 days without seeing family members and even World Vision staff.”
Shin Bet, the agency that detained Halabi, routinely uses torture when interrogating Palestinians.
In another twist, the far-right-wing Israeli lawfare group Shurat HaDin said on Friday that it has been warning for years that World Vision funds “were being utilized for terrorism.”
In comments to The Jerusalem Post, Shurat HaDin said that last year it had “cautioned the Australian government that World Vision was operating as an active arm of the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] and other terror groups.”
It added that World Vision’s Australia arm and the Australian government had rejected the allegations.
Shurat HaDin’s accusation is odd given that the Israeli government’s charges against the charity’s Gaza director involve the Islamist movement Hamas, rather than the leftist and secular PFLP.
Shurat HaDin director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner has previously admitted that her organization has effectively acted as a proxy for Israel’s spying and assassination agency Mossad.
Her group’s principal activity is to attempt to sabotage the work of Palestine solidarity, human rights and other organizations by lobbing lurid allegations presented without evidence and filing baseless lawsuits.
This method is on full display in this case: in a post on Facebook, Shurat HaDin asserted that Israel’s mere allegations against World Vision’s Gaza director Halabi meant that its own warnings about the charity had been “proven true.”
Targeting humanitarian aid
In recent months, Israel has launched a major crackdown on domestic and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations through intimidation campaigns and repressive legislation.
There are indications that the assault on World Vision is the international counterpart to this campaign.
Israel has ordered its representatives around the world to go on an offensive over the matter.
“Specifically, the diplomats were instructed to spread the news of Halabi’s alleged actions among liberal and religious groups who support World Vision,” the Israeli news website Ynet reported.
“Contacts, journalists and relevant opinion makers should be briefed, and an emphasis needs to also be put on the digital arena,” a senior foreign ministry official reportedly ordered.
Diplomats were also armed with “detailed background materials about the case and talking points to be used in meetings, posts on social media and infographics,” Ynet said.
Dore Gold, the director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, wrote a scaremongering letter to his counterparts around the world claiming in effect that humanitarian aid to Gaza amounts to support for terrorism.
“It’s important to note that Hamas has close ties to the security apparatus in Iran, which is looking for ways to expand its military influence from Syria to Yemen. Beyond that, Hamas has also been closely working with ISIS militants in northern Sinai,” Gold wrote, according to Ynet.
“The bolstering of Hamas’s military abilities – made possible by humanitarian aid – serves the strategic interests of the big destabilizing powers operating in the Middle East today.”
That both Iran and Hamas are mortal enemies of ISIS is apparently no obstacle to Israel making such claims.
But by spreading sensational allegations that a group as well-known as World Vision is “funding terrorism,” Israel may seek to put other organizations and the Israel-friendly Western governments that fund them on notice that all their operations, especially in Gaza, are at its mercy.
It may also be an effort to break growing solidarity for Palestinians in churches, where there has been a strong push to hold Israel accountable through boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Israel has already effectively succeeded in bringing the UN to heel, making it complicit in the so-called Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism through which Israel strictly controls the entry of reconstruction supplies into the territory.
As The Electronic Intifada revealed in January, a top international expert in UN law had warned in a confidential memo that the GRM was illegal and violated fundamental rights of Palestinians.
In an ominous sign, Shin Bet sources have already predicted that World Vision is likely to be only the first of many humanitarian organizations and even UN agencies targeted by allegations that they support “terrorism.”