Israeli law enforcement officials have charged Mohammed el-Halabi, an employee of World Vision, a child welfare organization supported by Christians throughout the world, of funneling millions of dollars to the anti-Semitic terror organization Hamas.
While working as World Vision's director in the Gaza Strip, Halabi allegedly diverted funds that Hamas used to purchase weapons and construct terror tunnels into Israel. Halabi also allegedly diverted food packages to Hamas fighters and allowed members of the organization's military units to fraudulently draw salaries from the charity's payroll. If the allegations are true, it is a scandalous use of the money World Vision collects through its child sponsorship programs.
Halabi, who reportedly confessed to his crimes, said he was able to infiltrate World Vision on behalf of Hamas because his father, also an alleged Hamas member, worked for the United Nations Work and Relief Agency—another humanitarian institution that has had terrorists on its payroll. (Here is a statement issued by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the charges against Halabi.) Israeli investigators report there is no evidence that World Vision's upper management knew about Halabi's actions, and World Vision itself has declared it has no reason to think the allegations are true.
The allegations, as stunning as they are, should come as no surprise. Observers of the international aid industry have long understood that staffers of international aid organizations who operate in a war zone will be under the thumb of the warlords in charge of the area and that this has a corrupting influence on how aid organizations operate. Sadly, World Vision is no exception.
When World Vision and other organizations sent aid into Africa to help starving Ethiopians in the 1980s, observers complained that the aid was diverted by the Mengistu regime, which was fighting a brutal civil war, to forcibly relocate its citizens away from rebel-held areas. They also complained that humanitarian organizations helped the Mengistu regime blame "natural causes" for the hunger, downplaying the government's efforts to starve its enemies.
When researchers raised these issues at an international conference in 1986, a World Vision staffer from the United Kingdom said it was "immoral" to publish such information because of the negative impact it would have donations.
The arrest and indictment of Halabi for his alleged crimes will invariably have a terrible impact on the willingness of donors to continue to support the organization's work in Gaza and possibly elsewhere in the world.
While the Israeli government has been emphatic that it is directing its indictment solely at Halabi and not the organization he works for, World Vision officials have some soul-searching to do. In spite of Halabi's confession, his defense attorney says his client is innocent and that Hamas had brazenly stolen World Vision materials for its own use. If this is true, it is news, because World Vision has not reported this information to the general public, with good reason. Who wants to donate to a child welfare organization whose goods are being used by a group like Hamas?
There's another problem. When World Vision has made statements about the conflicts between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and their impact on children, it typically treats Israel with a much rougher hand than it does Hamas. For example, in 2008, World Vision blamed Israel's blockade for the lack of electricity, flour and cooking oil in Gaza, making no mention of the fact that according to the Palestinian Authority, Hamas was diverting these goods for use by its own employees and members.
And in 2012, Richard Stearns, president of World Vision's affiliate in the U.S., falsely accused Israel of denying Palestinian Christians the ability to attend Easter services in Jerusalem, stating that Israel only handed out 2,000-3,000 permits to these groups, when in fact it provided more than 20,000 permits. Michael Oren, then Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. set the record straight in a blistering response a few days later, calling Stearns' allegations "completely without foundation and are libelous to the State of Israel."
"Israel has provided more than 20,000 permits this year for Palestinian Christians to enter Jerusalem for the Good Friday and Easter holidays. Five-hundred similar permits have also been issued to the remaining Christians of Gaza, though the area is under the control of the terrorist organization Hamas," he wrote.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian-Media Analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).