Free Palestinian aid worker Mohammed el-Halabi

Mohammed El Halabi (Dudu Grunshpan - AFP)

Asa Winstanley

Middle East Monitor  /  October 23, 2021

Mohammed el-Halabi is a senior Palestinian aid worker with the global Christian charity World Vision. He was kidnapped by Israeli army thugs in June 2016 during a routine trip between World Vision’s Jerusalem and Gaza offices.

He has been languishing in Israeli jails ever since and has still not faced trial.

Israel has falsely accused Mohammed of diverting millions of dollars of World Vision funds to Hamas – a political party and armed resistance movement – away from the charity’s Gaza branch, where he is the director.

But Mohammed has been repeatedly cleared of these accusations.

Internal investigations by World Vision and the Australian government – one of the charity’s major funders – found no evidence that Mohammed had done anything wrong. World Vision even paid a staggering $7 million to hire a forensic auditing firm to investigate Israel’s false accusations against them.

These investigations completely exonerated him and even found that Mohammed – who is not a political supporter of the group – had gone out of his way to distance the charity from Hamas.

Israel has presented no evidence to support its outlandish claims against Mohammed. The case that Israel’s secret police Shin Bet has fabricated against him is not even a competent forgery. They claim that he stole more than $50 million from World Vision over the course of seven years.

But that amount is actually more than double World Vision’s entire Gaza budget!

As is normal behaviour for the thugs of the Israeli apartheid regime, Mohammed has been tortured in prison, and a United Nations (UN) official has confirmed that his treatment may amount to torture. He was initially disappeared without a trace, tortured and denied access to a lawyer.

Even now, his lawyer Maher Hanna is systematically denied access to witnesses, the ability to view evidence and has even been banned from writing his own notes during court hearings.

Many of the hearings have been held in secret, and all of Israel’s so-called evidence against Mohammed is actually secret evidence produced by the Shin Bet spy agency.

Israel’s court system is not a legitimate legal system.

Palestinians in the West Bank are prosecuted in military courts in which the conviction rate is a staggering 99.7 per cent. This is a kangaroo court and a racist kangaroo court: Israeli Jews are given civilian trials, while most Palestinians are judged and prosecuted by the Israeli army.

That is the very definition of apartheid.

One of the Israeli judges in 2017 put pressure on Mohammed to accept a plea deal. “You’ve read the numbers and the statistics,” the judge said, “you know how these issues are handled.”

These are not the actions of a democracy.

UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk last year demanded that Israel either give Mohammed a fair trial or release him, stating: “What is happening to Mr El-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians.”

Because Mohammed has insisted on having his day in court – no matter how much the odds are stacked against him – the Israelis are pressuring him to accept a plea deal, in which he agrees to admit to a lesser charge and probably then be released on time served.

Speaking via his lawyer, Mohammed has accused Israel of engaging in what he called a “fishing exhibition” against World Vision – an analysis with which I agree.

The actions of Israel in trying to force Mohammed to accept a plea deal – despite such high-profile accusations – are telling.

They want to be able to have a new weapon to use against humanitarian aid programs in Gaza. The work of international charities in Gaza can make it harder for Israel to fully control the strip. They want to be free to impose the same siege on Gaza that they have for 14 years now, without outside interference.

Israel’s defamation war against World Vision is part of Israel’s war against Palestinian existence. It is part of Zionism’s long genocidal war against the indigenous people of Palestine.

If Israel succeeds in forcing Mohammed to recant and sign a false confession, it will have gained a powerful new weapon in its war against the humanitarian aid organizations working to alleviate Palestinian suffering – the same suffering that Israel has caused in the first place.

Mohammed obviously knows all this, and that is why he is refusing to sign. In doing so, he is resisting Israel’s apartheid regime.

All of this has meant great suffering for him and his family.

After I first wrote about Mohammed’s case in my MEMO column last year, his father Khalil wrote me an email thanking me with a photo of Mohammed’s smiling children.

Earlier this week, I read reporter Joe Dyke’s long article in The Guardian about Mohammed, and it contains a newer photo of Khalil and the children. His youngest son, Faris, who was a baby in the photo emailed to me, is now a growing young boy who barely knows his father. The two eldest are teens – young men.

Those years of the children’s lives are years that Mohammed and his family will never regain. Those are years stolen by Israel and its despicable racist project to impose a European Jewish settler-colony in the heart of the Arab world.

That is why it is incumbent on us all to campaign for Mohammed’s immediate release.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East