Free Mohammed El Halabi


Mohammed El Halabi, father of 5, worked hard at World Vision in Gaza, and in October 2014 he was promoted to manager.  It wasn’t an easy job, he supported programs for farmers and fishermen, and children traumatised by war and helped families facing complex issues including disability and poverty. 

The UN Humanitarian Heros program –recognises everyday people doing extraordinary things.  In 2014 Mohammed was named a humanitarian hero.   Mohammed visited Australia and spoke at an event in Federal Parliament.

Then on June 15 2016, crossing back into Gaza after a meeting with colleagues in Jerusalem, the unthinkable happened – Israel arrested Mohammed accusing him of funnelling millions of dollars of aid money to Hamas.

At the time the head of World Vision Australia Tim Costello, said he’d worked with Mohammed for over ten years and that he was “profoundly shocked” at the “explosive allegations”, particularly given they’d just received the regular PWC audits back which had not raised any significant concerns about diversion of funds within financial processess.  Tim Costello said they had "no reason to believe" the allegations against him were true.  The then President of World Vision International said “World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately US$22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to US$50 million being diverted hard to reconcile.”  Mohammed required external approval for any spending over $15,000.

Given the allegations surrounding diversion of aid money, Australia commissioned an investigation and suspended payments to World Vision Australia. In March 2017, DFAT announced that their investigations found “nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds”. World Vision International commissioned an independent investigation and World Vision Australia had their processes reviewed externally.  In February 2017 the World Vision regional manager said they’d seen “no credible evidence to support those charges”

In February 2020, Conny Lenneberg, Mohammed’s former manager said to the ABC

The outcome of the investigation was that there was no evidence of resources being misappropriated and in fact, the only evidence that was found was that Mohammed Al Halabi was taking very active steps to reduce the exposure of the organisation to pressure from militia groups wanting to access resources….One of the core allegations which is that $50 million was diverted is completely incomprehensible given that nowhere near that amount of money has ever been committed for programs in Gaza in the 10-year period in question.

Mohammed says that since his arrest he has faced constant pressure to plead guilty, and at one stage Israeli officials announced he had confessed.  However at every single public hearing, Mohammed has maintained his innocence.   Mohammed was also offered a plea deal for three years in jail, but Mohammed has said he refuses to plead guilty to false charges.  He has now been in jail for over four years.

Mohammed has said that he’d been tortured during his interrogation, being beaten so badly that he’s sustained hearing damage.  In response to the allegations, Israeli authorities reported they’d punished him for speaking out, and they placed him in solitary confinement.

‘Court’ process

There have already been 151 court hearings with his most recent case postponed at the request of prosecutors.

World Vision staff and other witnesses have testified that the accusations are factually impossible.  For example he is accused of diverting iron to Hamas when World Vision don't import iron into Gaza.

Mohammed is being tried in court process unlike anything we know. Most Palestinians are tried in military courts, which have nearly 100% conviction rates for Palestinians.  While Mohammed is being tried in a civilian court, the judges and the prosecution are Israeli military, and the prosecution constantly invoke ‘security’ provisions, affecting court processes.

Scores of procedural issues reported by his lawyer are restricting a fair trial, including:

  • The defense has been denied copies of transcripts of the hearings and can only view them by application to the security service to view (and not to copy) in the presence of Israeli Security Service.
  • The defense has been restricted in what notes they are able to take in court and record on personal computers. Security Services personnel have requested to review defence counsel’s computers and delete any materials they deem confidential.
  • All proceedings are conducted in Hebrew.  The translation within the court has been incomplete and of poor quality, restricting both the judges understanding of witnesses, or Mohammed capacity to participate in proceedings.  The judges have stopped the proceedings many times because of dangerously inaccurate translation of witness testimony.  Several times World Vision staff members attending to translate for World Vision staff monitoring the trial were asked by Judges to serve as impromptu translators.
  • Mohammed has been banned from testifying in English in which he is fluent, and which all judges speak and instead must testify in Arabic where the translations is poor.
  • Defence has been restricted in its capacity to call witnesses, as the prosecution indicated witnesses from Gaza would be arrested as accomplices.  When after much negotiation a few were able to appear via videoconferencing, the prosecution argued their testimony should be given less weight because they were not present in the courtroom.
  • The defense has been denied access to evidence of the only substantive prosecution witness.  The defense can only view heavily redacted and edited photocopies of the evidence and is restricted from taking notes about it.
  • The main prosecution witness did not answer most questions under cross-examination, citing confidentiality as reason to not respond
  • The redacted and tampered with photocopies are being tendered as evidence to the court rather than the original documents
  • The court has ruled that security considerations override the legal rule of “the best evidence rule”

Mohammed’s lawyers are appealing to the Israeli Supreme Court about both the restrictions on the trial and the tampering of original evidence in photocopies.