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World Vision aid worker detained in Israel on 'trumped-up charges'

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Mohammad El Halabi is currently imprisoned in Israel (image via YouTube)

The Morrison Government is gaining notoriety for leaving people behind.

Currently, there are more than 25,000 Australians stranded across the world unable to return home, some estimate there are 30,000 plus Australians desperate to return in the UK alone. Morrison may be throwing money at Qantas, but he just can’t seem to arrange for commercial or charter flights to bring citizens home.

On the plus side, however, no lobster, lamb or piece of rump is being left stranded here, as panic buyers picked our supermarket shelves clean, Morrison managed to arrange charter flights to export lobsters, lamb and beef.

Strange priorities.

This piece, however, is about someone Australia left behind and betrayed nearly five years ago and has continued to betray every day since.

The person is a Director for World Vision Australia who has been rotting in various prisons in Israel for close to five years, his name is Mohammad El Halabi. His crime is doing what the Australian Government requested of him.

El Halabi wasn’t doing anything covert like spying. He was distributing foreign aid on behalf of the Australian Government. That foreign aid was going to Palestinian children that struggle for clean water, scrounge for food and who have been traumatised by the ravages of war and constant one-sided attack. 

World Vision Australia place tenders with the Department of Foreign Affairs for specific projects and these are either approved or rejected. Any funding allocated is exact and specific.

Mohammad El Halabi was World Vision Australia’s Gaza Project Director. he had been with World Vision for ten years before his arrest on what has been described as "trumped-up charges".

It is often claimed that Israel operates under the "rule of law". That is true to a certain degree, however, any particular rule or particular law is largely dependent on government discretion and whom it is being aimed at.

Israel’s legal system is farcical. Many Palestinians, including children, end up before military courts which have a 99 per cent conviction rate. You will often see Israel’s defenders in Australia point to conviction rates in China of 95 per cent and claiming that is proof of an unjust system. 

Allegations of the torture of political prisoners are rife. Israel currently holds 4,500 political prisoners, with 150 of these being children.

One of these prisoners is Mohammad El Halabi.

El Halabi is charged with funnelling aid money to Hamas. The claims of "trumped-up charges" are based on the claim that the money he funnelled actually surpasses the amount of aid provided. Not only that,  but much of the aid supplied is not funds, it is often equipment, personnel and food.

These facts alone make one wonder if Israel is accusing El Halabi of performing magic tricks with money.

Claims of dodgy charges are also backed up by the fact that, for his five years in various prisons, his appearances in court have largely been held in secret and he is yet to be found guilty despite his lack of access to legal assistance. A cornerstone of any democracy is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. While Israel calls itself a democracy, it is nothing of the sort.

In relation to the allegations against El Halabi, both World Vision Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) have performed exhaustive investigations and audits of their aid funds. They found nothing to indicate any funds being funnelled or misplaced.

A statement from DFAT after its investigation stated:

‘DFAT has reviewed the management of its funding to World Vision in the Palestinian territories. The review uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds.’

IA contacted World Vision Australia which was unable to comment on El Halabi’s situation. Their most recent press release on the matter was in 2017 which included these statements:

  • 'None of the allegations against Mohammad El Halabi have been tested in an open court, and we support the ongoing presumption of his innocence.'
  • 'World Vision has not seen any credible evidence supporting the charges.'
  • 'We remain deeply concerned with this situation, and are saddened by the impact on Gaza’s children and their families. Aid from the international community remains a lifeline for 1.1 million people in Gaza, and one in four children in Gaza are in need of psychosocial support.'

Australia’s attitude to the Palestinian children who are suffering unimaginably has always been hypocritical. We support the supply of aid to them, while at the same time supporting the Israeli government that cuts off their supplies, power, access to clean water and bombs their neighbourhood almost nightly. We also keep purchasing weapons and spyware off companies like Elbit that test their weapons on them.

It’s like we’re paying the bloke attacking them with a chainsaw and balancing that off by funding band-aids.

At one point, so brutal was the Israeli campaign against Palestinians they blocked all supply and let in just enough food so they wouldn’t die of malnutrition. Israeli Ministry of Defense documents reveal they even went to the extent of how many calories were required before malnutrition was imminent.

Fortunately people like Mohammad El Halabi and organisations like World Vision Australia care enough to do something about it, even if the pro-Israel lobby have our politicians in their pockets.

So what can be done?

Australia has a good enough relationship with Israel. Good enough for Mossad assassins to continually use fake Australian passports without it impacting the relationship.

Australia could put a boycott on Israeli goods until an agreed outcome is reached. We could ban the Israel lobby from any access to politicians, or perhaps we could start calling them out on their apartheid, like we did with South Africa back when politicians had a spine.

IA contacted the office of the Foreign Minister, Marise Payne with queries and requesting an update. They failed to respond.

IA also contacted Ambassador Mark Sofer at the Israel Embassy, again they refused to respond. 

His silence speaks volumes.

One person who hasn’t been silent though is Labor’s Chief Opposition Whip and Member for Fowler Chris Hayes. who in parliament in August spoke about El Halabi’s plight:

“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."

Rule of law, indeed.

It’s no wonder the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement is gathering momentum. It’s one way we can take matters into our own hands.

Our Government's palms have been greased.

Peter Wicks is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Federal Labor Party staffer. You can follow him on Twitter @MadWixxy.

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