Israel convicts ex-World Vision Gaza chief amid 'serious concerns' over unfair trial
An Israeli court on Wednesday found the former Gaza head of a major US-based NGO guilty of embezzling millions of dollars to Hamas, amid "serious concerns" from the UN Human Rights Office over the trial's fairness.
The UN Human Rights Office on Tuesday had raised particular concern over the "lack of evidence" against Mohammed al-Halabi, who has been held by Israel for six years.
Halabi was arrested by Israel in 2016 on allegations that he helped funnel millions of dollars meant for development to armed groups in Gaza, charges he and his supporters reject as impossible.
He was first held for 50 days without access to a lawyer and has since attended more than 160 court sessions extending his detention.
But the Israeli court in Beersheba on Wednesday convicted Halabi of belonging to a terrorist group and of financing terrorist activities, of having "transmitted information to the enemy" as well as the possession of a weapon, according to a summary of the ruling viewed by AFP.
"The charges against the accused point to extensive financial support and information sharing with Hamas," it said.
Much of the evidence against Halabi was kept secret, with Israeli citing "security concerns", prompting his legal team to question the verdict's legitimacy.
Maher Hanna, his lawyer, claimed he was also never properly able to cross-examine witnesses and was prevented was accessing critical evidence, making it impossible to defend himself fairly.
"It's completely unprecedented. There was no procedure like that in the history of Israel," he was quoted in The Guardian. "It's extremely unfair, extremely unbalanced, extremely untruthful."
He said Halabi would be appealing.
The prisoner’s father Muhammad Al-Halabi,director of the World Vision Foundation,demands Israel to apologize to his son for the mistake in his arrest— Khalil El Halabi (@KhalilElHalabi1) February 24, 2022
Apology is the language of force@jeremybob1 @BarakRavid @JeffSmithi24 @JacobMagid @DAWN_Journal @JessicaMontell @brown_johnbrown pic.twitter.com/9nDjyTWBIf
The Australian government, a major donor to World Vision, announced it was freezing funding to projects in the Gaza Strip following Halabi's arrest.
A subsequent Australian government probe found no evidence of embezzlement.
Sharon Marshall, senior director of public engagement for World Vision, expressed "extreme disappointment" following the verdict.
"In our view, there have been irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive and publicly available evidence," she said.
The sentencing is expected in the coming weeks.