However this story turns out, it will be a tragedy. A Palestinian man named Mohammed El Halabi, manager at the Gaza branch of the Christian aid organization World Vision, has been accused by Israeli prosecutors of infiltrating the organization years ago and of channeling as much as $43 million dollars from World Vision contributions to the military wing of Hamas.
Hamas is, of course, considered by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist organization. And it does have a military wing even though it also provides social services and has a good bit of support along the Gaza strip. In fact, once when traveling with the Presiding Bishop to visit the Arab hospital in Gaza and deliver a generator for their use, unbeknownst to us, we were provided with a Hamas security guard lest Israeli airstrikes mistakenly target us on our way!
Nonetheless, Hamas is certainly involved in military-style activity against Israel including building cross border tunnels in order to carry out attacks on Israeli territory. The charges are that El Halabi may have transferred sixty percent of World Vision’s annual budget for Gaza to Hamas. This would include the building of those tunnels and transferring some 2500 food packages meant for needy families in Gaza to Hamas battalions.
If these allegations prove true, it will reinforce long-held Israeli suspicions that Palestinian employees of aid organizations and other N.G.O.s are Hamas sympathizers and perhaps forever limit the freedom of such organizations to function in humanitarian ways in Gaza and on the West Bank. If the allegations turn out to be false — as Hamas claims, suspecting false stories being circulated by Israeli intelligence — it will reinforce Palestinian suspicions that their Israeli neighbors cannot be trusted and remain a hostile “occupying power” in Palestinian territory.
Fortunately, no one is suggesting that World Vision, as an organization, is implicated which is a good thing since, according to The New York Times, they sponsor 4.1 million children around the world each year and provide $1.2 billion in relief funds. Approximately 40,000 Palestinians receive assistance on the West Bank and Gaza. It would be devastating to the organization and to those persons provided assistance if donations were to fall off drastically because of suspicions raised by this incident.
Let us hope for appropriate investigation, an unbiased process, and if necessary a fair trial with complete transparency lest this unfortunate situation escalate into something worse and severely damage a well-respected Christian aid organization from doing its important work. “I was hungry and you gave me food.”