TEL AVIV — Australia and Germany suspended aid to the humanitarian evangelical Christian group World Vision on Friday, amid charges by Israel that the charity’s head in Gaza diverted millions of dollars of funds in Hamas.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said the allegations were “deeply troubling” and it was halting all funds to the charity “for programs in the Palestinian Territories until the investigation is complete.”
The DFAT spokesman said that the charity received approximately $4.35 million over the past three fiscal years for the provision of aid in the Palestinian territories “intended for humanitarian and development assistance to the Palestinian community.”
“Any diversion of the generous support of the Australian and international community for military or terrorist purposes by Hamas is to be deplored and can only harm the Palestinian people,” the spokesman said.
Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), meanwhile, said it had indefinitely suspended funds totaling $1.66 million to World Vision and “that there will be no disbursements until further notice.”
On Thursday, the head of World Vision’s operations in Gaza, Muhammad Halabi, appeared in an Israeli court following charges of siphoning 60 percent of the charity’s budget to support the construction of underground tunnels and the purchase of weapons for the terror group Hamas.
On June 15, the Shin Bet arrested Halabi, a member of Hamas since 1995 who was groomed to infiltrate the international charity more than a decade ago, the security agency said.
More than seven million dollars annually was diverted by Halabi to Hamas.
Hamas’ spokesman in Gaza, Abdulatif al-Qanou, denied the charges, saying that Halabi is not in contact with the Gaza-based group.
Volker Beck, a German Green Party MP and head of the German-Israel parliamentary group in the Bundestag, said in a statement: “World Vision massively damages the trust necessary for aid work for the people in Gaza.”
“Hamas is a terrorist organization, which should not be financed with taxpayer funds,” Beck said.
World Vision, an evangelical Christian charity created in 1950, is one of the U.S.’s largest relief organizations, operating in nearly 100 countries worldwide.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman welcomed the suspensions on Friday. Director-General Dore Gold also sent a message to all Israeli embassies to urge donor countries to scrutinize funds sent to Gaza.