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August 25, 2016 5:10 am

After World Vision Scandal, Palestinian Aid Groups Face New Scrutiny

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Mohammad El-Halabi, the World Vision Gaza Zonal Manager arrested by Israel. Photo: World Vision website.

Mohammad El-Halabi, the World Vision Gaza Zonal Manager arrested by Israel. Photo: World Vision website. – World Vision and other foreign-aid organizations that have funneled millions of dollars to the terror group Hamas are directly responsible for the murder of scores of Israeli Jews, an Israeli legal expert contends.

In the aftermath of the money-funneling scandal, groups like World Vision cannot collect charity that ends up in the hand of terrorists “on the blood of the citizens of Israel,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, president of Shurat HaDin Israeli legal center.

Mohammed el-Halabi, the charity manager for the Australian-based World Vision, was accused earlier this month of transferring up to $50 million to Hamas over a five-year period. Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet made the arrest and are conducting an investigation.

El-Halabi fraudulently listed children of Hamas terrorists as service recipients, created front groups and inflated projects costs to divert money, according to officials.

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He also funneled food, medical supplies and agriculture equipment to Hamas, some of which was used to build attack tunnels and military installations.

The case of World Vision isn’t an isolated incident, said Yona Schiffmiller, director of the NGO Monitor’s North America office. “There is an ongoing fundamental problem that exists in the NGO/humanitarian aid community. It doesn’t want to take security concerns to heart.”

There are similar cases of financing terrorism under the guise of charity, dating back to the 1970s, said Colin P. Clarke, a RAND Corp. political scientist and international security expert.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Provisional Irish Republican Army are just two examples of groups that have used the scam, he said.

In Bosnia, Algeria, and Afghanistan, insurgents benefitted from considerable support provided through religious charities, whose donations increased in the wake of publicized insurgent military success or media-focused campaigns depicting civilians suffering in these countries.

While Clarke contends that donors, and the NGOs that administer the funds, are probably unaware of where the money goes and assume it helps provide medical, legal and other types of aid to suffering civilians in war torn countries.

But groups like Hamas set up a social service wing, called Dawah, along with its military arm, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

“You cannot separate between them,” Darshan-Leitner said. “You cannot designate money to benevolence and think it will not get to the military. That’s just how it is.”

Employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), for example, are nearly all members of Hamas, according to Darshan-Leitner. Therefore, schools and hospitals operated by UNRWA become launching pads for missiles and rockets against the Jewish state. Ambulances owned by UNRWA transport terrorists. And UNRWA kindergartens become safe homes for Hamas operatives.

“UNRWA has been asked over and over to halt this activity and to make sure the schools are clean, that the basements are not storage rooms for an arsenal of missiles,” Darshan-Leitner said. “They won’t do it because the people acting there are Hamas people.”

The implications can be significant.

“If giving aid causes a war, it doesn’t further the goal of developing Gaza’s infrastructure and improving the lives of Palestinian children,” the NGO Monitor’s Schiffmiller said. “It will only exacerbate an already dangerous situation.”

Since 2012, Darshan-Leitner’s legal center has been warning about World Vision’s funding which went ignored by the Australian government and World Vision, both insisting that the group provided valuable humanitarian work.

It’s up to NGOs to be more transparent about where the giving goes, Schiffmiller said.

There are many examples of a lack of transparency including the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), in which projects were funded in Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to “unspecified humanitarian agency,” he said.

On just one page of a 2014 DFID report, more than $47 million is listed as going to these unspecified aid groups, according to Schiffmiller.

The DFID has no oversight with groups receiving sub-grants such as the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) which gave more than $6.6 million this year to “aid civil society organizations.”

What will happen next with World Vision?

While the investigation continues, the German and Australian governments have suspended donations to World Vision in Gaza.

On Tuesday, UK officials said they “will not consider future funding” for World Vision, according to news reports.

Clarke recommends that organizations adhere to federal regulations in place over financial institutions that send money overseas and that governments do a better job of regulating money transfers across borders.

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