World Vision and Amnesty condemn Palestinian aid worker’s secret trial

Mohammad El Halabi, the manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza. (Credit: World Vision International)

World Vision is demanding transparency as secret court proceedings begin in Israel against former Gaza program manager Mohammed al-Halabi, who is charged with diverted aid money to benefit Hamas.

Halabi appeared for a secret pre-trial hearing on Tuesday. World Vision said that the charges are false and is demanding that the evidence collected by Israeli authorities and the legal proceedings be made public so that Halabi is granted a fair trial.

“A trial is legitimate if it is transparent,” Kevin Jenkins, head of World Vision International, told Agence France-Presse. “As much as our donors want the truth to come out, we want the truth to come out. Our whole reputation is based on integrity.”

It echoed a similar call made by the human rights group Amnesty International that Israel ensure a fair and open trial for Halabi. The group is concerned because Halabi was initially denied access to a lawyer before charges were filed and he had been “seriously mistreated” while in custody. Furthermore, strict rules prevent his lawyer from disclosing information about the trial and his treatment.

Amnesty argued that there are only certain circumstances where it is acceptable to have secret trials. It rejected Israel’s argument that secrecy was necessary in this case for national security reasons.

“Secret trials are the most flagrant violation of the right to a public hearing. Holding these court proceedings behind closed doors would render any convictions obtained unsound,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International, in a statement. “The allegation of stealing money intended to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is extremely serious. This makes it all the more pressing to ensure that Mohammed al-Halabi’s rights are fully respected and that his trial be fair and transparent.”

Halabi is accused of using money from World Vision programs to support Hamas, a fundamentalist Islamic group designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and other countries. Israeli security authorities said that $7.4 million in funds and programs went to Hamas over the past decade. World Vision immediately responded to the charges by standing behind its program manager. The group questioned how so much money could be diverted when only $22.5 million was spent by the organization in Gaza, and controls allowed Halabi to authorize just $15,000 in spending at a time.

The Israeli Security Agency, known as Shin Bet, said that Halabi confessed to his theft scheme. But the major discrepancies may be due to the fact that Halabi was beaten while in custody and his confession came under coercion, some reports indicate. His poor treatment and inability to speak to a lawyer are in line with previous reports showing most how most Palestinians held by Shin Bet are treated.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.