‘Every single day I try to do all I can to raise awareness for my son’s cause. I want to hold him close and tell him how proud I am for all the work that he’s done for Gaza and the Palestinian people.’
These are the words of a heartbroken father, Khalil El-Halabi, who recently contacted me regarding the ongoing plight of his son, Mohammed El Halabi, the former director of World Vision Australia operating in Gaza and the West Bank.
He was arrested on 15 June 2016 by the Israeli authorities on allegations of funnelling $50 million of World Vision money into the terrorist group Hamas.
The father of five, who was responsible for supervising humanitarian relief programs for World Vision, was declared by the United Nations in 2014 as a ‘humanitarian hero’.
It has now been more than four years since his arrest, with the Israeli prosecutors yet to prove the allegations made against him or order his release.
According to reports, Mr El Halabi has been subjected to physical and psychological torture, has restricted medical care and limited visitation rights, and has been forced to attend court 146 times, without evidence having been presented to substantiate the allegations.
Mr El Halabi’s Jerusalem based lawyer has also been obstructed at every turn. The Israeli courts have imposed unprecedented restrictions on the defence counsel throughout the four-year ordeal, thereby depriving Mr El Halabi of the prospects of a fair trial or the presumption of innocence before the law.
His lawyer argues that this is a very clear case of political bias, stating, ‘Mohammed is a scapegoat for a misinformation campaign to intimidate international humanitarian organisations working in Gaza.’
Investigations conducted by our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and independent auditors, as well as World Vision, have all failed to show any evidence that the money was ever diverted. World Vision has even gone so far as to say ‘the allegations are incomprehensible’ and that Mr El Halabi simply did not have access to the amount of money in question.
With no evidence presented thus far by the Israeli authorities to substantiate the charge against Mr El Halabi, it is imperative that the international community continues to place public pressure on Israel to finalise his trial without further delay.
In this matter, Israel should and must remain accountable for upholding human rights, maintaining due process and, above all, complying with the rule of law.