The more notorious of the humanitarian aid scandals in Gaza was the arrest of Mohammed El Halabi, Gaza director of World Vision, a Christian charity, for funneling millions of dollars worth of money and supplies to Hamas over a multi-year period. World Vision gets funding from individual donors, churches, foundations and grants from many Western governments. The large amount of money that was diverted is staggering and deeply disturbing. The scandal has led some countries to withhold aid to World Vision, which has suspended operations in Gaza while it investigates. World Vision issued a statement condemning terrorism in only a general way, and instead of showing genuine horror that funds sent from donors (who thought it would benefit Palestinian children) were instead diverted to a terror organization bent on killing Israeli children, expressed skepticism about the allegations and lectured Israel on transparency.
The U.N. connection? Prior to working at World Vision, El Halabi worked at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). As Israel alleges, as part of his work for UNDP, El Halabi sent “farmers” to the areas near the border between Israel and Gaza, where they acted as scouts for Hamas terrorists (see more information on the El Halabi case here). The U.N. honored El Halabi as one of its “humanitarian heroes” in 2014 as part of World Humanitarian Day. That webpage was taken down, but is still archived here. World Vision has still not taken down an identical article about El Halabi on its own website.
After El Halabi was detained, a second arrest was made, this time of a UNDP Gaza staffer named Waheed Borsh, who allegedly funneled concrete, which was used to construct a base for Hamas’s terrorist operatives.
The U.N. reacted to news of the arrest similarly to World Vision—with concern about the allegations but also some skepticism and hectoring of Israel on judicial transparency. It should go without saying that Israel is a democracy with a strong standard of rule of law, while being careful not to endanger security. Gaza, on the other hand, is run by a terrorist gang that summarily executes people.
The U.N. also absurdly claimed that Borsh, as a U.N. employee, was entitled to diplomatic immunity. Borsh, however, was a local staff person, not a diplomat. If a local staffer at U.N. Headquarters in New York was accused of giving money to Al Qaeda, or a staffer at UNESCO in Paris of supporting ISIS, would the U.N. also claim diplomatic immunity for them? Highly doubtful.
In an added insult, the U.N. demanded that Borsh be let go from the prison where he is being held in Be’er Sheva. But, they did not write it Be’er Sheva, they chose to use Bi’ir as-Sab, the Arabic name for the city—a city with ancient Jewish historical connections. This tactic of purposefully mislabeling Israeli cities and towns with Arab names is a favorite of those who hate Israel and want to see it destroyed and replaced with an Arab state. For the U.N. to degrade itself in this way while demanding that Israel release a staffer accused of using U.N. resources to support terrorism is an unnecessary added provocation. These types of games should have no place under U.N. letterhead. Was this done by mistake? Then the U.N. should admit to it and apologize.
Israel hinted when El Halabi was arrested that there could be more arrests coming down the line. Unfortunately, these examples are also not the first time that Palestinian groups have taken advantage of well-meaning donors. During Operation Protective Edge, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the U.N. agency funded by many Western donor governments that takes care of Palestinian refugees and their offspring in perpetuity (while all other refugees are taken care of under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees—UNHCR), found Hamas rockets hidden in their schools. It is not only Hamas that takes advantage—the Palestinian Authority takes in massive amounts of aid from Western donor governments while continuing to run a pension system for terrorists.
Indeed, transparency and accountability is needed, but from the humanitarian NGOs and U.N. agencies working in Gaza who are being used to further Hamas war aims against Israeli civilians.
Oren Drori is the Program Officer for United Nations Affairs at B’nai B’rith International where he supports advocacy and programming efforts that advance B’nai B’rith’s goals at the U.N., which include: defending Israel, combating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and promoting global human rights and humanitarian concerns. He received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in 2004 and an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Chicago in 2006. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.