The Australian – August 6, 2016
Diverting humanitarian aid is despicable. Diverting it to a militant organisation that carries out attacks against civilians is simply evil.
It is now common knowledge that Hamas – the designated terrorist organisation which rules the Gaza Strip – has for years been diverting cement and other materials meant for the reconstruction of Gaza and the benefit of Palestinian civilians. It steals them to use for building military infrastructure – such as terror tunnels targeting Israeli towns. What has now come to light is just how successful they’ve apparently been at infiltrating those who are supposed to keep this from happening.
The Israeli government have recently charged the manager of operations for the charity World Vision in Gaza, Mohammad El Halabi, with channelling 60% of the charity’s annual budget for Gaza to Hamas (approximately $7.2 million per annum). Furthermore, it is alleged that 40% of the funds intended for civilian projects were instead given in cash to Hamas combat units.
Having reportedly given World Vision over $5 million in the past three years for projects in the Gaza Strip, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have suspended further funding for World Vision programs in the Palestinian Territories pending an investigation.
The aid reportedly diverted includes 2500 food packages worth $250,000 and money raised to support injured children in Gaza, sent instead to the families of Hamas operatives by falsely listing their children as wounded.
This is only the latest episode in the fraught delivery of aid to Gaza’s civilians and demonstrates the ongoing difficulties faced by aid organisations and governments, including Australia, in getting well-intended funds and donations to those in need.
Hamas is notorious for taking building materials meant for hospitals, schools and civilian infrastructure and using them to construct underground tunnel networks extending into Israeli population centres for the sole purpose of launching attacks. Israeli government spokesperson Dore Gold claimed in May that Israel had evidence that “out of every 100 sacks of cement that come into the Gaza strip [from Israel], only five or six are transferred to civilians”, with the rest being diverted by Hamas for military purposes.
Israeli sources also say Hamas is employing more than 1000 people fulltime in building tunnels and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per month on these efforts. Even children of Gaza have reportedly been exploited for such work, resulting in the deaths of many young Palestinians.
Following conflict between Hamas and Israel in 2014, Israel eased restrictions on the entry of materials into Gaza to allow goods necessary for reconstruction to be delivered to the Strip under a UN-brokered supervision arrangement.
Various countries pledged $US3.5 billion in aid to rebuild Gaza in 2014 – however much of this aid never materialised, especially aid promised by the Arab countries of the Middle East. This failure to deliver seems emblematic of the trepidation these nations have about Gaza’s leaders’ ability to use the aid appropriately and for the benefit of the population.
And indeed, reconstruction of homes in Gaza has been proceeding very slowly. This is despite the fact that, under the arrangements set up in 2104, over 5 million tons of construction materials have entered Gaza since then, and an average of 80 truckloads of cement enter Gaza weekly.
Hamas’s interference directly impacts on the Gaza civilians for whom the aid was intended – hampering the ability of charities and like-minded organisations to effectively deliver a better life for Gaza’s residents.
But more than that, it imperils both their hopes for the future and hopes for a peaceful two-state outcome in the Middle East. The last thing Gazans need is another round of deadly and destructive fighting – yet Hamas is diverting well-intentioned aid, including it seems Australian taxpayer money, to prepare for exactly this. Thus, aid that is intended to make things better is actually making things worse for both Gazans and Israelis.
This latest scandal reinforces the imperative for aid to be subjected to strictest oversight and continued monitoring to ensure it ends up in the right hands. Arrangements must be built first and foremost from an overwhelming awareness that Hamas, a terrorist group that is the actual government authority of Gaza, is determined to use any means at its disposal to get its hands on money and materials for its own violent ends.
The case against Mohammad El Halabi, who it is charged was a Hamas operative deliberately infiltrated into World Vision over the course of a decade to steal aid, if substantiated would highlight just how far they are prepared to go.
If well-meaning people let them, Hamas will misuse aid to not only deprive Gazans of much-needed humanitarian assistance, but to commit acts of terror and other war crimes, to further diminish Middle East hopes, and to start yet another devastating conflict. It is incumbent upon governments, charities and aid organisations not to make deals or compromise with this evil when they understandably and commendably try to help the people of Gaza.
Dr. Colin Rubenstein is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.