Israel sentences World Vision ex-Gaza chief to 12 years

‘Profound miscarriage of justice’, ‘mockery of due process’, says HRW

Maher Hanna, the lawyer of Mohammed al-Halabi. (Photo: AFP)
BEERSHEBA, Israel — An Israeli court on Tuesday sentenced the former Gaza head of a major US-based aid agency to 12 years in prison on allegations of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.اضافة اعلان

The Beersheba district court issued a sentence of “12 years’ prison time, less the detention” already served for World Vision’s Mohammed Al-Halabi.

The court had ruled in June that Halabi was guilty of siphoning off millions of dollars and tonnes of steel to Hamas.

Halabi, who was arrested in June 2016 and indicted in August that year, has denied any irregularities throughout his past six years in detention.

His lawyer reiterated his claim to innocence following Tuesday’s sentencing.

“He says that he’s innocent, he did nothing, and there is no evidence,” Maher Hanna said. “On the contrary, he proved in the court above any reasonable doubt that he made sure that no money will be (given) directly to Hamas.”

According to Hanna, if Halabi had admitted to wrongdoings, he would have been released.

“But he insisted that truth also has value. And for his personal values and for the international humanitarian work values, he insisted on the truth, and he cannot admit a thing that he did not do,” the lawyer said.

Much of the evidence used to try Halabi was kept secret, with Israel citing “security concerns”, prompting his legal team to question the verdict’s legitimacy.

Hanna said they would appeal the verdict to the supreme court.

World Vision, a US-based Christian charity with almost 40,000 employees globally, said in a statement that “the 12-year sentence announced today ... is deeply disappointing and in sharp contrast to the evidence and facts of the case.”

Halabi’s “arrest, six-year trial, unjust verdict, and this sentence are emblematic of actions that hinder humanitarian work in Gaza and the West Bank,” the NGO said.

Following Halabi’s arrest, the Australian government, a major donor to World Vision, announced it was freezing funding to projects in the Gaza Strip.

A subsequent Australian government probe found no evidence of embezzlement.

In Gaza, Halabi’s mother described the anguish of following what she called an unjust trial.

“I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown, and I was screaming,” Amal Al-Halabi told AFP.

“This is injustice. Where is the international community and where are Mohammed’s human rights?”

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, called the 12-year sentence a “profound miscarriage of justice”, with the six-year trial and use of secret evidence constituting a “mockery of due process”.

“He should long ago have been released,” Shakir said.

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