TEL AVIV – Hamas illegally siphoned off tens of millions of dollars of aid money from the U.S. and Europe to build terror tunnels and fund weapons purchases, the Shin Bet security service said Thursday.
60 percent of the U.S.-based Christian aid charity World Vision’s total budget was funneled over the course of years by a local Hamas operative posing as a charity worker for the NGO.
On June 15, the Shin Bet arrested Muhammad Halabi, a Hamas member and head of operations for World Vision in Gaza. According to the security agency, Halabi was a member of Hamas since 1995 and was groomed to infiltrate the international charity more than a decade ago.
“This was a meaningful and important investigation that showed — above all — the cynical and crude way in which Hamas takes advantage of funds and resources from international humanitarian aid organizations,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.
World Vision denied the allegations against Halabi.
“Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true. We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence,” the charity said in a statement following the indictment.
In his capacity as manager of the aid group’s activities in the Gaza Strip, Halabi “controlled the budget, equipment and humanitarian aid packages worth tens of millions of dollars,” the Shin Bet said.
Some $7.2 million every year was redirected from the charity’s budget to Hamas’ coffers. Another $5.5 million was also siphoned towards bogus humanitarian projects like building greenhouses. In Halabi’s words, the charity’s humanitarian budget was “almost entirely” funneled to Hamas.
“These were all used as a pipeline to transfer money to Hamas,” the Shin Bet said.
Hamas was then able to exaggerate the budget of those fictitious projects, put Hamas operatives on the payroll and use them as a front to launder money.
According to Halabi’s testimony, if he were to list an item as costing $1,000 when in reality it only cost $700, Hamas was able to receive the leftover funds. He added that all the monies transferred to Hamas were “earmarked for building up the military wing [of Hamas].”
The stolen aid money was also used to pay the terror group’s salaries.
The fake projects also allowed Hamas to achieve goals that would otherwise be near impossible, according to the allegations.
For example, the greenhouse initiative allowed Hamas to scour the best land for digging tunnels leading into Israel, while a fisherman aid program allowed the group to purchase equipment needed for Hamas frogmen attacks against Israel. The group was also able to redirect construction materials for rebuilding the Strip towards its own ends.
Hamas was even accused of stealing thousands of cartons of food for the needy as well as money designated for children injured in conflicts with Israel.
Israel’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai released a statement in Arabic addressing the people of Gaza, telling them of Halabi’s actions.
“I’m speaking to you today about the Hamas terror organization, which is stealing your money to advance terror. Following a long investigation, we found that Hamas consistently uses funds that Western countries give to international organizations, like the World Vision organization in Gaza,” Mordechai said.
“Millions of dollars that were meant to build projects, support residents financially — even food packages for the needy — were given over to the military wing of Hamas for building bases, for salary bonuses and for digging death tunnels that will bring demolition and destruction upon you and the Gaza Strip,” he told residents of the coastal enclave.
Halabi also revealed that a large number of people were abusing their positions in various aid organizations and in the United Nations in order to help Hamas, the Shin Bet said.
Halabi’s own father, Halil, was the director of the United Nation’s school system in the Gaza Strip for years. According to Halabi’s testimony, his father, also a member of Hamas, exploited his position to help the terrorist organization.
World Vision, an Evangelical Christian charity created in 1950, is one of the U.S.’ largest relief organizations operating in nearly 100 countries worldwide.
When Halabi was first detained, the charity defended him in a statement.
“[Halabi] is a widely respected and well regarded humanitarian, field manager and trusted colleague of over a decade. He has displayed compassionate leadership on behalf of the children and communities of Gaza through difficult and challenging times, and has always worked diligently and professionally in fulfilling his duties,” the organization said.