Israel sentences former World Vision aid manager to 12 years for alleged funding of Hamas

(CP) The evangelical humanitarian charity World Vision is disappointed that an Israeli court sentenced a former employee to more than a decade behind bars on terrorism charges, saying the judgment against him stands in "sharp contrast" to the facts of the case.

The international charity released a statement Tuesday announcing that Mohammad El Halabi, who formerly served as the organization's Gaza zonal manager, has been sentenced to 12 years in an Israeli prison after a six-year legal battle over an accusation that Halabi funnelled millions of dollars to the terror organization Hamas.

"The 12-year sentence announced today in the trial of Mohammad El Halabi is deeply disappointing and in sharp contrast to the evidence and facts of the case," World Vision declared. "We reject any attempt to divert humanitarian resources or exploit the work of aid organisations operating anywhere, and we do not see evidence of these things in this case."

In June, Halabi was convicted in the Beersheva District Court. At the time, World Vision decried "irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive, publicly available evidence."

"We support Mohammad's intent to appeal the verdict and the sentence and call for a fair and transparent appeal process based on the facts of the case," World Vision said in its Tuesday statement, adding that his conviction and sentencing are "emblematic of actions that hinder humanitarian work in Gaza and the West Bank."

"It adds to the chilling impact on World Vision and other aid or development groups working to assist Palestinians," the group argued.

"We are saddened that our 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 the 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."

Halabi was arrested on June 15, 2016, and later charged with diverting $50 million in funds intended for World Vision to Hamas. Then-World Vision International CEO Kevin Jenkins said in a statement that it's mathematically impossible for Halabi to have engaged in such embezzlement.

"World Vision's cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately US$22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to US$50 million being diverted hard to reconcile," he insisted. "Mohammad El Halabi was the manager of our Gaza operations only since October 2014; before that time he managed only portions of the Gaza budget. World Vision's accountability processes cap the amount individuals in management positions at his level to a signing authority of US$15,000."

World Vision conducted an investigation into its Gaza operations in response to Halabi's arrest and found no evidence of improper diversion of funds to Hamas on the part of their former employee. The organization again proclaimed a belief in his innocence in a January 2022 statement asserting, "We have not seen anything that makes us question our conclusion that Mohammad is innocent of all the charges."

The charity also noted that Halabi refused plea agreements because he has "so steadfastly assert[ed] his innocence" even when the plea sentences offered reportedly would have had him free by now.

A source who spoke with The Christian Post in August 2016 suggested that the charges against Halabi may constitute retaliation against the charity for criticism directed at Israel by Steve Haas, who served as vice president and chief catalyst for World Vision US.

Haas gave a speech at Massachusetts' Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2014, suggesting that Israel was perpetrating "the largest and longest occupation of another people group in modern history." He also condemned the "oppressive" legal system in Israel and took issue with Christians' strong support for the nation.

Charity Navigator gives World Vision a four-star rating awarded to "exceptional" charities. A four-star rating indicates that donors can "give with confidence." It also identified the organization's revenue in the fiscal year 2020 as more than $1.2 billion.

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