With Love from Israel: An Open Letter to World Vision about the Gaza Aid Scandal


Dear World Vision,

This is probably not a good time to write to you. Ever since the news of your Gaza woes broke on August 1, the global media has been hounding you for responses. But being a Jewish follower of the Messiah Yeshua makes me spiritual kin to those in the Christian faith, and I feel pain for your predicament. After so many years of devoted service to our Palestinian neighbors – since 1975, right? – it seems like all the good you’ve done has been eclipsed by one manager who has defrauded you, your donors, and those depending on your help.  

My country published some shocking confessions from your Gaza Operations Director, Muhammad El-Halabi. After 10 years of employing him in your JWG (Jerusalem, West Bank, Gaza) branch, I can’t blame you for initial skepticism. Shock victims often express denial as a first reaction. Being told that you were exploited to unwittingly support the death-spewing machinery of Hamas, I can only imagine the sense of betrayal, the logistical nightmare of trying to reconstruct what happened… and the haunting question: “What will we say to our donors??”

That last must be the worst. Your Jerusalem-based website emphasizes accountability to your donors, particularly “the responsibility for money or other entrusted properties to be used in the most efficient and responsible manner possible.”

Actually, that’s what makes your responses so troubling. It appears that instead of accepting responsibility for possibly entrusting Mr. Halabi with too much money and too little monitoring, you are working hard to discredit the messenger.

I first saw it on our local news outlet Ha’Aretz:

The international charity World Vision says that the sums its Gaza Strip director is accused of funneling to Hamas are impossibly high…. [T]he sum Halabi is accused of siphoning off to Hamas’ military wing far surpasses the organization’s actual budget for the past decade….

World Vision Germany spokeswoman Silvia Holten said in Germany on Monday that the charity’s Gaza budget totaled $22.5 million in the last decade – well under the Shin Bet estimate of Halabi’s alleged transfers to Hamas [some $36 million over 5 years]. According to Holten, there is a “huge gap” in the numbers. 

World Vision in Australia repeated the same objection in an interview on SBS TV, claiming to be “utterly confused” by the information coming from our Shin Bet (General Security Services):

Mr Costello said World Vision’s program in Gaza is only around $2 to $3 million a year, and yet somehow the organisation has been charged with diverting $50 million [sic] through Mr El Halabi who he said had been with World Vision for 10 years.

I understand that these two countries were among the biggest donors to WV-JWG, and that they have now stopped their aid to you. That must hurt. But I’m not sure why your German and Australian colleagues have been speaking for your Gaza office, or where they got their Gaza budget numbers. I guess the Jerusalem office supplied them. Anyway, your spokespeople keep repeating that the allegations are “impossible”.

Perhaps they ARE impossible – in Germany or Australia. But dear World Vision, during your 40 years in the Gaza Strip, you must have encountered the shameless corruption that benefits the privileged few there. Surely you heard about Hamas raking in an estimated $20 million a month (!!) in black-market trade, until Egypt destroyed several thousand smuggling tunnels. That reversal surfaced in 2010… right around the time Mr. Halabi allegedly started his $7.2 million annual World Vision ‘donations’ to Hamas. As an option for replacing their sagging revenue, your generous spirit and deep pockets must have been irresistible.

But you are only one of many donor groups violated by the terrorists. It’s common knowledge that much of the billions in aid sent to Gaza never reaches those who need it. As the IDF recently pointed out, the evidence is there for all to see: although international aid to Gaza is higher than ever, “only 23% of Palestinian homes damaged during Hamas’s last war with Israel [two years ago] have been rebuilt. Instead of reconstructing Gaza, Hamas spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on terror tunnel infrastructure and rearmament, which only puts more Gazan civilians at risk.”

That being so, you will rejoice to learn that this cynical thievery from the people of Gaza by their leaders is slowly being exposed and dismantled. Only days after your troubles hit the news, two other Gaza aid workers were arrested by our security people for similarly abusing their positions to serve Hamas. One worked for the British organization “Save the Children”; the other was from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). I’m sorry to inform you that both fraudsters were reportedly connected with your Mr. Halabi. But Israeli officials and journalists emphasize that World Vision was not a partner in this betrayal of donor trust; my country considers you a victim of our mutual enemy.

In fact, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry report, Mohammad El-Halabi was hand-picked by Hamas to infiltrate your organization because his father, Halil El-Halabi, had done the same for them in the UN relief agency UNRWA. From what former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter said, your failure is mild compared to the mess they’ve allowed to develop: “The number of UNRWA clerks who are working for Hamas is close to 100 percent.” So the UN’s self-righteous ‘tut-tut’ about your crisis was the height of chutzpah. Try to ignore them.

The statement issued by your USA office showed understandable bewilderment as to how Hamas infiltration and manipulation could have happened.

World Vision programs in Gaza have been subject to regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and a broad range of internal controls aimed at ensuring that assets reach their intended beneficiaries and are used in compliance with applicable laws and donor requirements. 

Reading Mr. Halabi’s published confession of how he deceived you, I can see why those precautions didn’t work. Your Operations Manager blindsided you by making legitimate purchases, like farm machinery and greenhouses. He probably even took your inspectors to see them on site. Who could have known that the machinery was used for terror tunnels and not farming, or that the greenhouses sheltered nothing but tunnel holes and materials?

But you heard about that before I did. That’s why I’m perplexed by your conclusion: “Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations [about Muhammad El-Halabi] are true.” Your international president told German journalists that “if” the reports were true, you would take action; but that’s unlikely. They’re “hard to reconcile with reality.”  

That’s the polite Western way of saying, “the allegations are almost certainly fabricated.” You are hinting that either your employee is lying to our investigators, or my country is lying to you and the world.

News outlets everywhere are following your lead in challenging the information published by Israel. And in every interview, your spokespeople reinforce it with the same objection: that “huge gap in the numbers” between your reported budget and the reported theft. Because of your insistence, even Israeli media are questioning whether our own Foreign Ministry can be trusted.

Israeli believers are similarly torn. Who should we believe: our country, or our spiritual family? I braced myself to side with the truth, whatever it may be, and I checked your online reports to verify your budget claims.

Your reported expenditures for 2013 were $15.6 million. In 2014 they were $16.1 million.

Instead of a 2015 report, I found the “Child Well-Being Report” for that year, where the expenditures were spread out over 5 different tables. They came to roughly $10.7 million. So the total comes to $42.4 million for 2013, 2014 and 2015. Based on that figure, a conservative estimate would put your budget for the past 10 years at roughly $142 million. Awesome fundraising!

But as we know, your colleagues are all citing $22.5 million for the decade… only 15% of my conservative estimate. Even if I was hopelessly optimistic, your oft-repeated sum for 10 years is only half the amount you actually reported for three of those 10 years.

I pondered how to resolve this new dilemma.

Naturally the total would have been shared among East Jerusalem and West Bank residents as well as Gazans. Perhaps the $22.5 million was referring to Gaza’s share of the $142 million? But this would mean that the 1.8 million people of Gaza – 80% of whom are dependent on donations to survive – received only around 15% of your aid, while the 2.2 million Palestinians in peaceful Jerusalem-West Bank enjoyed the other 85%. That would be horribly unjust!

However, if the proportions are reversed, that would show the war-torn Gazans being allocated some $120 million ($12 million a year). This in turn would show that the Shin Bet’s claim, a yearly $7.2 million diverted to Hamas, was not quite so “impossibly high” after all. In fact, it works out to around 60 percent of a $12 million budget… just as Israel reported.

Math problem solved! But that leaves us with a bigger problem, doesn’t it?  You repeatedly told the world, “the numbers don’t add up.” The Israelis can’t be trusted.

I noticed your actions said otherwise. All World Vision Gaza operations have been suspended. But surely a few words of explanation (dare I say apology?) should be offered to the intended recipients of those allegedly lost millions. So far only Israel was willing to tell the defrauded Gazans (in Arabic) that Hamas is to blame for exploiting your naiveté. They already know, but I’m sure they would appreciate hearing it from you.

Regardless, you won’t earn Gaza’s respect by blaming Israel for publishing such “impossible” (read: “fabricated propaganda”) confessions from your former manager. For years all Palestinians have either suffered or profited from this kind of “impossible” scheming. Isn’t it time someone besides the despised Zionists protested against the injustice?  

Your organization’s press release in response to the arrest of Mr. Halabi repeated your commitment to  all-inclusive Christian service: “World Vision serves all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender… striving to give hope to over 500,000 of the most vulnerable children.” I can’t believe that you would choose to make Israel the scapegoat for the way those 500,000 children were robbed by your rogue manager, continue to be abused by Hamas in Gaza, and are suffering in similar ways under the Fatah-controlled PA. But so far, that’s how your statements come across.

Your position has been tracked by NGO Monitor, which documented evidence of longstanding political bias against Israel. Media analyst Dexter Van Zile chronicled your difficulty in acknowledging basic facts about either Israel or the PA. You publicly condemn violence and abuse by “all sides” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet only Israelis are rebuked.

You declare on your website, “Our faith in Jesus is central to who we are.” Could this painful incident be a wake-up call from your Lord? It provides an opportunity for you to repent and recalibrate your Gaza faith-walk to embrace the whole truth. All of Gaza knows what you are facing. Despite the constant propaganda about “Israeli oppression”, they trust Israel to give them access to humanitarian aid, medical help, and jobs – which continues even while Hamas attacks these crossing points. Your work in Gaza could be so much more effective if you partnered with Israel to weed out Hamas infiltrators from your ranks, and replace them with honest Palestinians who care about their people as much as you and I do. No doubt Palestinian human rights leader Bassem Eid, who believes that “Hamas is hell for the Palestinians,” would love to help.

Dear World Vision: For a limited time, you have a window to exhibit rare Christian courage and leadership in bringing real hope to Gaza. May the truth set you free (John 8:32) to return to that mission field with the spiritual fortitude to do so. As the world watches for your next move, your spiritual family in Israel is praying for you.