ON JUNE 15, 2016, Mohammed el-Halabi, manager of World Vision’s Gaza programs, was arrested by Israeli authorities, accused of funneling millions of donor dollars to Hamas, the Islamist political party that rules inside Gaza.
The case made international headlines—and had a dangerous chilling effect on Christian aid organizations working in the Middle East.
Well before el-Halabi had the opportunity to be tried—let alone convicted—of any crime, the Israeli foreign ministry prepared talking points, background materials, infographics, and videos, ordering the country’s diplomats to hype el-Halabi’s alleged confession to media and senior government officials around the world.
“Contacts, journalists, and relevant opinion makers should be briefed,” ordered senior foreign ministry officials, with particular focus on targeting “liberal and religious groups,” reported an Israeli newspaper.
But cracks in the Israeli government’s case appeared almost immediately. The most gaping: “World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past 10 years was approximately $22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50 million being diverted hard to reconcile,” said Kevin Jenkins, president and CEO of World Vision International.
According to World Vision, its programs in Gaza are subject to internal and independent audits and external evaluations to ensure that funds benefit those intended, precisely the nearly half of Gaza’s population living in poverty under a crippling blockade enforced by Israel. El-Halabi was accused of embezzling $50 million, yet World Vision’s accountability process caps signing authority at $15,000.
Undeterred by the facts, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson told Australian media: “It’s like when you catch a serial killer; the question of whether he killed 50 people or 25 people is not really relevant, is it?”