AN ISRAELI court convicted an aid worker, Mohammed El Halabi, on terrorist charges on Wednesday, after a widely criticised six-year period of pre-trial detention.
The case against Mr Halabi, and the process that he underwent, have been condemned by human-rights groups and the United Nations.
In 2016, Mr Halabi was arrested and accused of transferring tens of millions of dollars from World Vision, of which he was the Gaza director, to Hamas. At the time, a spokesperson for Hamas said that the group had no connection with Mr El Halabi (News, 12 August 2016).
Several independent audits — including one by the Australian government, and another by the company Deloitte — have found no evidence that any funds were misdirected.
At the time, the charity’s chief executive, Kevin Jenkins, noted that World Vision’s budget in Gaza over the previous decade had been only $22.5 million, making it hard to understand how Mr El Halabi could be accused of siphoning $50 million of charity funds to Hamas.
In a statement released after the verdict, World Vision expressed “disappointment” with the court’s decision. “In our view there have been irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive, publicly available evidence,” the statement continued.
In November 2020, four UN Special Rapporteurs called for Mr El Halabi’s detention to come to an end, either by granting him a fair trial or by releasing him. They noted that he had been questioned for 50 days after his arrest without being given access to a lawyer, and that many of his court appearances had occured behind closed doors.
“What is happening to Mr El Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies,” they said. It was instead “part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians”.
Mr Halabi, who is Palestinian, has denied the charges against him, and repeatedly refused plea deals that would have obtained his release in exchange for admitting guilt.
In the statement on Wednesday, World Vision expressed its support for Mr El Halabi’s decision to appeal, and called for “a fair and transparent appeal process based on the facts of the case”.