19 October 2021

An Open Letter to Lisa Nandy, Who Went from Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine to Becoming the Zionist’s Favourite Pet

Is there anything more sickening than a politician who steps on the bodies of Palestinian children in order to build her career?

 

I thought it was about time that I wrote to an old friend, Starmer’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy. Because it is of general interest I have decided to share it with others but I would ask that you keep it confidential.  I don’t want our friendship to be derailed!!

The JLM's Mike Katz praises Louise Ellman, who has defended the torture and abuse of Palestinian children in the name of 'security' - Ruth Smeeth was very brave in lying to get Marc Wadsworth expelled

It’s not often that I agree with Stephane Savary of the Jewish Labour Movement, who accused Lisa Nandy of “playing both sides.” Just a day after saying, at a JLM hustings for Labour leadership candidates that she was a Zionist, Nandy agreed to sign up to 3 Pledges from PSC, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

If Nandy had understood what she said then she would know that a return of those who were ethnically cleansed in 1948 would spell doom for Israel as a Jewish Supremacist state. It would force Zionism to choose between a democratic state or an apartheid state. In practice the choice has already been made. Israel rules over 5 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories yet refuses to grant them even the most minimal civil or political rights.

The refugees were expelled in order to create a Jewish majority in Israel. That was always the intention of the Zionist movement. In December 1940, Joseph Weitz, Director of the Jewish National Fund's Lands Settlement Department, wrote in his diary:

Ruth Smeeth, described in one US memo published by Wikileaks as a Protected Asset of the United States.  A hard line Zionist, she lied about anti-racist activist Marc Wadsworth whom Corbyn failed to defend

There is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to the neighboring countries, and to transfer all of them, save perhaps for [the Arabs of] Bethlehem, Nazareth and Old Jerusalem. Not one village must be left, not one [bedouin] tribe. And only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb millions of our brothers and the Jewish problem will cease to exist. There is no other solution."

In December 2018 Nandy became Chair of the invisible Labour Friends of Palestine. In an article outlining her plans as the new Chair, Nandy waxed lyrical about the oppression that the Palestinians faced.

How is it that Nandy, who wrote eloquently about ‘families humiliated at checkpoints on a daily basis and the denial of basic medical care’ and in support of an arms embargo could also support the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign directed against Corbyn and supporters of the Palestinians?


Labour Party policy on Palestine as passed by the 2021 Conference

Nandy’s condemnation of the Palestine motion passed at Labour Party conference was a further example of how she is prepared to sell the Palestinians down the river if it benefits her career. He condemnation was of course supported by Starmer, who had previously declared that he is a ‘Zionist without qualification.’

As someone who always believes in the best in people I thought I should write a personal letter to Nandy expressing my disappointment and hoping that she had been misquoted. After all Nandy can't want people to think that the only thing she is interested in is power for its own sake!

Open Letter to Lisa Nandy

Dear Lisa Nandy,

I am sure you will agree with me that consistency, honesty and integrity are qualities to be admired in a politician, rare as it might be to find such a person. I have looked in vain for any evidence that you possess any of these qualities.  Given your record to date you will understand why integrity, honesty and consistency are not the things that spring to mind when your name is mentioned.

However, since I always try to look for the best in a person I thought that if I wrote to you that you might help me in my endeavours.

My problems stem from the fact that in December 2018, when you  became Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine, you spoke movingly of your experiences visiting the West Bank. I hope I am not embarrassing you if I quote back to you what you said, as in today's climate in the Labour Party they may well be termed 'anti-Semitic' and get you suspended:

I met a three-year-old child whose house was surrounded by the Separation Wall and was growing up without daylight. I saw a 15-year-old shackled by the ankles, who had been held in administrative detention for months without any contact with his family, access to school or a lawyer. I saw families humiliated at checkpoints on a daily basis and the denial of basic medical care as a result…. After a decade working with some of the most marginalised children in the UK, I didn’t think I could be shocked anymore, but what I saw in the West Bank amounted to the deliberate destruction of the hopes of a generation.

You will be aware that the cry of ‘anti-Semitism’ is routinely used, not only against critics of Israel and Zionism but even against its friends who stray from the Zionist pth. The examples are legion. Even President Obama, who agree to the largest ever military aid to Israel, some $38 billion over 10 years, was labelled an ‘anti-Semite’ for having the temerity to abstain on a UN resolution condemning Israel’s illegal settlements.

The accusation that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism is a catchphrase of the Right, from President Macron of France to Mike Pompei, Trump’s Christian fundamentalist Secretary of State. It is a lie that has become part of the West’s imperialist narrative. As Goebbels noted if you “Repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth”

What surprised me most about this fake narrative was how yesterday’s racists, such as Tom Watson and John Mann, were born again opponents of ‘anti-Semitism’. How is this possible?

Who would have thought that Watson, who ‘lost sleep thinking about poor old Phil Woolas and his leaflets’ was the same Watson who declared that he wouldn’t rest until the last anti-Semite had been driven out of the Labour Party? This was the same Tom Watson who, as campaign manager in the Birmingham Hodshrove by-election in 2004 had issued a leaflet "Labour is on your side, the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers."

The Feeble Five Labour Leadership Candidates

You will I am sure remember Woolas and the campaign he ran in Oldham. The campaign strategy wasmaking the White folk angry’. John Mann, the ‘anti-Semitism Czar’ (a fitting title) was also angry at the ‘injustice’ to Phil Woolas as was Steve McCabe, the current Chair of Labour Friends of Israel.

Following the suspension of Woolas, after not before, the High Court removed him from the House of Commons, John Pienaar revealed that a mutiny took place during the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Harriet Harman, the acting leader of the party was called a ‘disgrace’ for suspending this vile racist. These are the same people who carried the flag for the fake ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign five years later.

Indeed John Mann went even further. No stauncher defender of Israel and Zionism is there than Mann. He is infamous for his bullying confrontation  with Ken Livingstone for having referred to how the Nazis and the Zionists got on like a house on fire in the 1930s. It was the same John Mann who wrote a handbook on anti-social behaviour which described Gypsies and Roma as examples of anti-social behaviour, an asocial pest to be excluded from polite society.  

In the section on ‘Travellers’ there was ‘a big, bold strapline saying “the Police have powers to remove any gypsies and travellers”. If John Mann or the Labour Right had any sense of history they might recall that it wasn’t only the Jews who died in the Nazi death camps but Gypsies too and in much the same proportions.

Don’t you think it is strange that the most rabidly racist section of the PLP were also the most ardent opponents of ‘anti-Semitism’ under Jeremy Corbyn? Why do you think it is that the mass media, from the Mail and the Sun to the BBC and LBC, were united in condemning ‘anti-Semitism’ when they have all played their part in whipping up hatred against Black and Muslims in this country?

But you also played your part in stirring the ‘anti-Semitism’ cauldron. In your imitation of a nodding dog, in an interview with Andrew Neil in 2020, Rachel Cousins was quoted by Neil as a ‘prominent Labour activist’ who had tweeted that the Board of Deputies were ‘Conservative backers’, which is a statement of fact. The Board welcomed the anti-Semitic White Supremacist Donald Trump to power but not Corbyn to the Labour leadership.

Rachel demanded that the BOD condemn all Israeli military atrocities in the West Bank. Neil then asked you ‘is that anti-Semitic?’ to which you answered – ‘yes, it is’.

Forgive me if I am slightly puzzled but that is always what happens when non-Jews profess to be such experts on ‘anti-Semitism’. Perhaps you could tell me, being Jewish, exactly what was anti-Semitic about calling on the BOD to condemn Israel’s military atrocities? This is the same Board which has supported each and every Israeli attack on the Palestinians. 

When Israeli snipers mowed down unarmed Palestinian civilians in Gaza the Board was on hand to defend Israel. When Israel attacked Gaza earlier this year the BOD immediately issued a statement of support. It even organised a demonstration of support (which Tommy Robinson, that well known opponent of racism, attended). Indeed Robinson was welcomed like a hero.

One of the most striking thing about support for Israel today is how the strongest supporters of Zionism, from Viktor Orban and Steve Bannon to neo-Nazi Richard Spencer and Tommy Robinson, come from the White Supremacist far-Right. Don't you think that is strange? How is it that the most racist and anti-Semitic elements in society are also those who are most opposed to 'anti-Semitism'?

But I digress. The BOD has support for Israel embedded in its constitution. Why then should Rachel Cousin’s call for the Board to criticise Israel’s military reign of terror, which you yourself once opposed, be anti-Semitic?

Given your previous role as Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that you are a prime example of a hypocrite who will say and do anything in order to advance her career.

Lisa Nandy's idea of 'balance' is to support both the victims of Israeli apartheid and the supporters of apartheid!

Given your strong condemnation, as Chair of LFP, of Israel’s reign of terror in the West Bank, I would have assumed that you would have welcomed the Young Labour motion on Palestine which was passed by the most recent Labour Party conference.

The motion called for support for the ‘international campaign to stop annexation and end apartheid.’ It was only this year that B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch concluded that Israel is practising the crime of apartheid. How can there be any doubt about this? It is a statement of fact.

You yourself condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children whereas Jewish children living in the settlements receive entirely different treatment. They aren’t arrested in the middle of the night, blindfolded, shackled and beaten? How can this be anything than racism and apartheid? Or were you also ‘anti-Semitic’ at one time?

The motion condemned

‘the ongoing Nakba in Palestine, Israel’s militarised violence attacking the Al Aqsa mosque, the forced displacements from Sheikh Jarrah and the deadly assault on Gaza.’ 

 ‘International Criminal Court decision to hold an inquiry into abuses committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 2014.’

as well as calling for ‘stopping any arms trade used to violate Palestinian human rights and trade with illegal Israeli settlements’ and to ‘support “effective measures” including sanctions’ against Israel, as well as supporting the Right of Return. It also called for an end to the occupation of the West Bank, the blockade of Gaza and the demolition of the Apartheid Wall.

The Board of Deputies held its first ever 'anti-racist' demonstration in 2018 - against Jeremy Corbyn. Against the National Front and Oswald Moseley it advised Jews to stay at home!

Finding nothing that you could disagree with in the motion you declared that the Labour leadership ‘cannot support pro Palestine motion’ at conference because the motion 'does not address the issues in a comprehensive or balanced way'.

Perhaps I am na├»ve but didn’t South Africa in the days of Apartheid also condemn the attacks on it as ‘one sided’? Today the Saudi regime makes similar criticisms of UN resolutions on Yemen. Would you would have insisted, as many in the West did, on a ‘balanced’ approach to the Nazis’  treatment of the Jews prior to 1939?

What does ‘balance’ mean when there is a choice between good and evil? It can only mean conniving in the perpetuation of injustice. Turning a blind eye to evil. That and that alone is the real meaning of your weasel words. As Martin Luther King observed

‘The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.’

In days gone by even Sir Keith supported the Palestinians 

I realise that hope must spring eternal in your breast as you look upon the walking disaster that goes by the name of Keith Starmer. It cannot be but a matter of time before Starmer, whose performance as Labour leader resembles Ian Duncan Smith’s leadership of the Tory Party, is removed. Ambition seems to be the only quality you have. But as Shakespeare noted in Hamlet ‘The very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.’

At the hustings for Labour candidates in the leadership campaign you described yourself as a Zionist. You said that:

“I believe that Jewish people have the right to national self-determination. That makes me a zionist.”

Zionism was a political ideology and movement that sought to create a 'Jewish' state in Palestine. The first Zionists weren't Jewish.  They were Protesetants. Lords Shaftesbury and Palmerstone, George Elliot, Napoleon, Ernest Laharanne.  In essence western imperialists who wanted a 'Jewish' settler state to safeguard their imperialist interests, notably the Suez Canal and the route to India.

Zionism has nothing to do with Jewish 'self determination'.  Zionism never claimed to be such a movement. It saw itself as a colonising movement, hence why Zionists organisations such as the Jewish Colonisation Agency were set up. Of course today, with movements for racial justice  and national liberation, Zionists want to be part of the zeitgeist.  They use the language of the left in defence of their colonising project much as the Jewish National Fund, whose sole purpose is to effect ethnic cleansing, has taken to describing itself as an ecological movement.

It never ceases to amaze me that those who shout loudest about ‘anti-Semitism’ are usually the worst anti-Semites. When you say that Jews are entitled to 'self determination' what you mean is that Jews don't belong in the countries where they live.

Unfortunately  Palestine Solidarity Campaign thinks it advances the Palestinian cause to put Zionists on its platforms

When Zionism first arose, its fiercest opponents were themselves Jewish.  They saw in Zionism a form of Jewish anti-Semitism, which is not surprising since most anti-Semites - from the anti-Dreyfusard leader Edouard Drumont to Williams Evans-Gordon, the founder of the British Brothers League and Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi Party's main theoretician, all supported Zionism.

The reaction of Lucien Wolf, Secretary of the Conjoint Foreign Committee of the Board of Deputies to the idea that Jews constituted a separate nation from other British people was typical:

I have spent most of my life in combating these very doctrines, when presented to me in the form of anti-Semitism, and I can only regard them as the more dangerous when they come to me in the guise of Zionism. They constitute a capitulation to our enemies.’ [i]



[i]            B Destani (ed) The Zionist movement and the foundation of Israel 1839-1972, p.727.

The only people who are entitled to national self-determination are oppressed nations. The Jews are neither oppressed nor a nation. Jews speak a variety of languages and live in a multiplicity of countries.

In other words, in adopting the Zionist creed you have also adopted the anti-Semites belief that Jews are not really British. 

Rest assured Lisa that it may well be that the Labour Party deserves you as a leader. Today it seems as if the only person fit to lead the Labour Party is someone totally lacking in principle and whose only distinguishing characteristic is a willingness to say anything if it pleases the British Establishment.

Yours as ever,

Tony Greenstein

14 October 2021

Mohammed El Halabi has been imprisoned for 5 years accused of stealing millions of dollars for Hamas – yet two audits said no money is missing!

 Secret evidence hidden from his lawyer plus a confession obtained under torture is the only ‘proof’ of guilt – this is Israeli democracy

 

 Join Zoom Meeting

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82652717048

Meeting ID: 826 5271 7048

Passcode: 422374

Mohammed El Halabi was arrested in July 2016 by Israel. The charges could not have been more serious. Transferring $7.2 million dollars a year from World Vision, an American charity, to Hamas. Despite the fact that World Vision’s total budget in this time in Gaza was a fraction of this.

The Canadian and Australian governments immediately froze the money they were giving to World Vision and the Australian Government set up its own audit. World Vision employed DLA Piper and Deloittes to conduct an audit and review what had gone on.


The conclusion of both audits?  That no money was missing. According to Australia’s ABC ‘there's no evidence he stole money, but this Palestinian aid worker remains in an Israeli jail

The Guardian reported that:

The investigators faced obstacles: they could not access Halabi in jail, and the Israeli government refused to provide any documentation or evidence it possessed. … nonetheless, they had “more than sufficient documentation” to complete their investigation. The team carried out more than 70 interviews, including with former and current World Vision employees, and reviewed 280,000 emails. Deloitte reviewed every payment the organisation made over five years.

They found no sign of any missing funds, and no evidence Halabi was working for Hamas – in fact, they reported that he consistently sought to distance the organisation from them. The closest they found to impropriety were a few times Halabi had slightly overstepped his authority – signing off a bill for a few hundred dollars more than his limit of $15,000, for example. But they found nothing that could justify any of the Israeli claims. Crucially, they concluded that World Vision’s monitoring and evaluation systems had been robust. “I do NGO investigations in difficult parts of the world … and I did not see anything out of the ordinary here from a control perspective,” Ingerman said.

The findings of the audit were sent to World Vision’s management in July 2017. They shared it with key international donors, as well as Halabi’s legal team. It was also offered to Israeli authorities, who declined to view it, World Vision said.

You might it think it strange that the Prosecution wasn’t interested in the audit findings but then this is Israel. What was Israel’s response? Well the normal response of most states on discovering no crime has been committed would have been to release Mohammed and prepare to pay compensation for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment. But of course you are forgetting that this is Israel. The ‘Jewish’ state does not do things like that, especially for Arabs.

Mohammed was, as is normal with Palestinian prisoners, badly beaten. In fact he was tortured according to the UN’s Special Rappoteur. In a UN press release, the Special Rappoteurs were damning of Israel:

“It’s particularly disturbing that the prosecution is relying upon confessions allegedly obtained by force while he was denied access to a lawyer, and on testimony from undercover informers,” the experts said.

Since his arrest and imprisonment, el-Halabi has attended more than 140 court hearings, all behind closed doors. His lawyer has been prevented from reviewing Israeli prosecution evidence, or was given only limited access with secrecy restrictions.

“These fundamentally unfair practices stain the justice system of any state,” the experts said. “We demand that Israel adhere to the requirements of the international rule of law.”

The international rule of law requires that an individual who is arrested must only be detained if there are reasonable suspicions that she or he has committed a recognised crime, and the charges and the evidence must be clearly laid out so defendants know what they have to answer. Comprehensive audits of the financial records by World Vision and by the Australian government, which donated the money, failed to turn up any misappropriation of funds or other wrongdoing.

Under the international rule of law, a defendant is entitled to swift access to a lawyer and to timely criminal proceedings that are fair and impartial. Any defendant must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty, and is entitled to cross-examine witnesses and to present her or his own witnesses.

“Even in security trials, these fundamental rights must be respected,” the experts said. “Unfortunately, Mr el-Halabi has been put in the position where he is required to refute allegations against him without knowing the details or who the accusers are. Keeping him in the dark like this shifts the burden of proof to the defendant, and is a fundamental violation of the right to a fair trial.”

Because of the beatings Mohammed now has a 40% hearing loss. He was hung up to ‘encourage’ him to talk.  He was also denied a lawyer for the first 60 days. Eventually he ‘confessed’ to a prison informer who had been put in his cell but his confession was so ludicrous that it didn’t bear examination.

The Prosecution doesn’t even have the actual confession. Just a bad photocopy! From almost day one Israel tried to make him agree to a plea deal whereby he confesses his guilt to a lesser charge and he would be released on the basis of time served. In essence Israel is desperate to gain a confession for political purposes.  It knows its charges are false and would not stand up to any forensic examination.

None of this stopped Benjamin Netanyahu, the then Israeli prime minister, on 11 August 2016, declaring Mohammed guilty. Netanyahu said that Israel ‘cares more about Palestinians than their own leaders. A few days ago the world learned that Hamas, the terrorist organisation that rules Gaza, stole millions of dollars from humanitarian organisations like World Vision and the United Nations.”

His first lawyer, Lea Tsemel, pressurized him to do exactly this because she knew that Israeli courts rarely acquit Arabs and that would be the only way to gain his release.  But Mohammed was stubborn.  He refused to play the Israeli game of false confessions, false convictions and a light sentence.  As far as he was concerned he was innocent and for 5 years he has been kept in prison solely because he refused to confess.

Indeed in early 2017, an Israeli judge told Halabi that he should accept a plea deal because there was “little chance” he wouldn’t be convicted. World Vision to give to Hamas Canadian and Australian DLA Piper and Deloittes Guardian UN’s Special Rappoteur Netanyahu, United Nations Lea Tsemel, Judge Nasser Abu Taha of the Be’er Sheva District Court reminded Mohammed that conviction rates were extremely high in similar cases. “You’ve read the numbers and the statistics,” the judge said in March 2017. “You know how these issues are handled.”

What kind of judicial system is it where a judge tells you that your chance of conviction is very high? But then you could ask what kind of judicial system is it where the Defence is not allowed to see most of the evidence and most of the 160+ court hearings have been held in secret?

In Israel Shin Bet, the equivalent of MI5 only has to utter the words ‘security’ and the judges immediately bow. Which means that the conviction of Mohammed el-Talabi is all but guaranteed. The allegation is that he is a Hamas supporter yet all the evidence is that he was a Fatah supporter from his student days and that he was extremely hostile to Hamas.

Witnesses are prepared to travel from Gaza to testify. The only problem is that they can’t travel to Israel because the military refuse to allow them to come. ‘Security’ you see is the problem. Mohammed is being actively prevented from presenting evidence in his own defence.

Unsurprisingly the 3 judges in Be’er Sheva District Court have, despite the evidence of torture and ill-treatment, despite the use of a prison informer who are notorious for lying in order to obtain favours, admitted the confession. Compare this with the Jewish defendants in the trial of Jewish terrorists whose petrol bomb set alight a home in Dura killing both parents and a small baby. The victims were Arab and the judges there ruled the confession inadmissible because it had been obtained by torture. Torture of Jews is, of course, exceptional so it is understandable that the judges were perturbed whereas it is standard for Arabs.

So outrageous is this case that it has attracted an enormous amount of publicity, including even the Zionist press. The right-wing Jerusalem Post ran a story Is Gaza human-rights activist Mohammad El Halabi getting a fair trial?

The Guardian ran a long report Has a lone Palestinian aid worker been falsely accused of the biggest aid money heist in history? It noted that:

In July 2021, the defence and prosecution summed up their cases. The sessions were completely closed to the public. The judges are expected to take at least three months to deliberate.

Mohammed El Halabi has taken an enormous gamble – that he can win a case in a language he doesn’t speak, in a country where many consider him an enemy. “If there is any value in the facts, he will be acquitted,” Hanna said. “But if facts don’t matter, he will go down. We have to believe that the facts matter.”

The Times of Israel, also ran an article by +972 Magazine and another article by Tim Costello, Daoud Kuttab Jailed 5 years without a fair trial: My questions for Mohammed Halabi’s prosecutor in which Daoud posed a number of questions in an imaginary conversation. These questions and answers sum up all the flaws in this case.

There is also an excellent article below by Israel’s +972 Magazine and another article by Tim Costello, the former CEO of World Vision. Mohammed is ‘lucky’ in one respect.  World Vision is one of the world’s biggest charities with a budget of some $2 billion.  Because it is convinced that Mohammed is innocent they are paying for legal representation.

Me: Why are you still holding Mohammad el-Halabi after five long years?

Prosecutor: He is charged with serious crimes.

Me: Do you really believe that he committed those crimes?

Prosecutor: Yes.

Me: If they are so serious and you are convinced of them, why have you offered so many plea deals that would El-Halabi go free in return for confessing to a lesser crime?

Prosecutor: For his own good and to save the court time and money.

Me: But that would have let him off scot-free despite the serious crimes you say he committed.

Prosecutor: Yes, I suppose you are right

Me: In your view, what is the most serious thing Mohammad did?

Prosecutor: He gamed the system, he used humanitarian aid to help terrorists

Me: But specifically what did he do?

Prosecutor: For example, he imported steel for humanitarian use and gave it to Hamas to build tunnels and to make rockets.

Me: And the beams came via Erez checkpoint?

Prosecutor: No, they came through Kerem Shalom.

Me: Are you sure?

Prosecutor: Yes.

Me: And who is in charge of the Kerem Shalom checkpoint?

Prosecutor: The IDF’s Coordinator of Activities (COGAT).

Me: So, the state of Israel has copies of the transactions since they came through an entry that is controlled by the Israeli army.

Prosecutor: Yes.

Me: That is strange because World Vision told me they have never used Kerem Shalom at all.

Prosecutor: World Vision is lying. el-Halabi signed a contract and imported them on claims they were going for humanitarian cases

Me: You know this because you raided the World Vision office in Jerusalem and confiscated all their documents?

Prosecutor: We have our ways.

Me: But surely the trove of documents that you got from World Vision, on the morning of July 12th, 2016 helped you seal the case against el-Halabi?

Prosecutor: Not exactly. You see there were a lot of files and we didn’t have the time or manpower to search all the material.

Me: But still you are sure that el-Halabi and World Vision imported steel beams to Gaza.

Prosecutor: Yes.

Me: So why did you not produce that evidence in court?

Prosecutor: There was a lot of secret evidence that I can’t discuss

Me: So you know the size and dates of the steel materials that were imported?

Prosecutor: Yes, in general.

Me: In general, I thought in court you have to be precise: On such and such date such number of steel beams weighing so much were imported to such and such organization.

Prosecutor: We don’t have those specific details.

Me: You say that you have a confession from Mohammad el-Halabi.

Prosecutor: Yes.

Me: So why was the original copy of this so-called confession never presented to the court?

Prosecutor: It was lost.

Me: You lost the very document that you based your entire case on?

Prosecutor: The original was lost yes.

Me: So you are accusing a man and have held him for five years based on an alleged confession that you can’t even present in its original form to the court.

Prosecutor: Sometimes it happens, but we have a copy.

Me: Ok, on another issue, are you aware that the Israeli government has allowed money to go to Hamas?

Prosecutor: Yes.

Me: The Netanyahu government and Bennett administration both agree to allow the transfer to Hamas of millions of dollars worth of Qatari cash.

Prosecutor: Yes, that is true but the money is to pay salaries

Me: And you know that all the money goes exactly for that?

Prosecutor: This is not my responsibility.

Me: What about the issue of the fungibility of money?

Prosecutor: What do you mean?

Me: It means that if Hamas gets money for salaries this allows it to use money that would have gone to salaries for other purposes. It is as if you gave Hamas money to develop rockets.

Prosecutor: That is absurd. Why would do that? We made money available in order to keep Gaza quiet and peaceful so that our people in southern Israel can sleep without running to the shelters.

Me: And isn’t that what Mohammad el-Halabi was doing by providing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza?

Prosecutor: Our government needed to pressure Hamas and Halabi was providing them with relief

Me: But you haven’t proved that and he has stubbornly refused to plea. He could have been free from year one yet but he stayed in jail for five years because he is certain he is innocent

Prosecutor: He is stupid.

Me: Maybe, but why would he refuse to make a plea if he actually did what you accuse him of?

Prosecutor: I don’t know.

Me: I have a plea offer for you and for the state of Israel.

Prosecutor: Mohammad is willing to make a plea offer?

Me: Yes, but not what you think?

Prosecutor: What is the offer?

Me: You withdraw your case against him, allow him to return to his humanitarian work in Gaza with his organization and, in return, he and his family and lawyer will commit not to speak to the press and embarrass you and your government for falsely accusing him and keeping him in jail for 5 long years.

Prosecutor: And what is the guarantee he will be silent when he will be back in Gaza?

Me: Simple, he is committed to humanitarian work. That is why he refused to plea so that humanitarian NGOs and in the end his people are not hurt by an admission of guilt even if it was false. You control which agencies work in Gaza by means of allowing them in and out of Gaza. If he breaks the deal you can stop whatever humanitarian agency he works for. In the end, you have lots of ways to ensure he will abide by his own offer. There you have it – a plea offer that lets you and the judges live with without convicting an innocent man, and all without losing a case.

>Prosecutor: I prefer to let the judge or the government decide. I am doing my job as directed by my superiors.

Me: Will you please pass this plea offer to them?

Prosecutor: OK.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

See UN Press Release:    Gaza Aid Worker Must be Given Fair Trial or Released, Say UN Experts – Press Release

Israel needs to stop stalling and release aid worker jailed five years ago

After 3 years, accusations against Gaza World Vision head remain unproven

By +972 Magazine June 14, 2019

Mohammed Halabi, arrested in 2016 by Israel on accusations of diverting charity funds to Hamas, is still behind bars. Dozens of court hearings later, the state has yet to present evidence against him.

By Antony Loewenstein

Mohammed Halabi, former director of World Vision in Gaza who was arrested in 2016 by Israel for unsubstantiated claims of diverting funds to Hamas, is still behind bars. (World Vision)

I’ve never heard of any case like this in Israel before,” says Maher Hanna. “Even in the [nuclear whistle-blower] Mordechai Vanunu case, his lawyer had more access to their client than I do.”

Hanna is the attorney representing Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Halabi, a World Vision manager born in a Gaza refugee camp who three years ago was accused by Israel of funneling around $43 million from the Christian charity to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Since 2016, Israel has not provided any evidence to Halabi or World Vision to prove its case, and yet Halabi’s trial continues in an Israeli court, unresolved and with no end in sight. His lawyer tells me that he has no idea if Halabi will remain in a remote prison near Be’er Sheva without being convicted for many more years.

This case is unprecedented in the Israeli legal system,” Hanna says. “Israel knows that Halabi is innocent. Some Israeli officials told me that.” Nonetheless, Hanna acknowledges that the panel of three judges could find his client guilty.

+972 Magazine has spent months investigating the Halabi case, examining the origins of the allegations, the reasons behind them, and speaking to key players in the story. The picture that emerges from many pages of internal World Vision documents, rarely heard details of the court case, and a correspondence with Halabi himself, is more than just that of an innocent Palestinian being tortured, mistreated and pressured to capitulate to Israeli demands; it also raises uncomfortable questions for many in the global and Israeli media who willingly accept Israeli government claims about Palestinians — even when there is no supporting evidence.

When the allegations against Halabi first surfaced in 2016, a senior official with the Shin Bet told journalists that Halabi had been recruited by Hamas in 2005 and instructed to join World Vision. After Halabi became head of World Vision in Gaza in 2010, the Israeli official claimed that he had eventually transferred around 60 percent of the organization’s annual budget in Gaza to Hamas. The allegedly stolen money had been spent on digging cross-border tunnels for Hamas militants to enter Israel, building a Hamas military base, and stealing humanitarian aid destined for hungry families in Gaza, according to the Israeli narrative.

It’s a common complaint by Israeli officials, rarely backed up with hard evidence, that Palestinian employees of international aid groups in Gaza exploit their positions to help Hamas. A number of Palestinians working in Gaza have been arrested and confessed to helping Hamas over the years, but lawyers for the accused men have always alleged that these confessions were elicited through torture at the hands of the Shin Bet. Israel still routinely tortures Palestinians, including children. Hanna says that prosecution witnesses in Halabi’s trial have acknowledged during cross examination being tortured by the Shin Bet and admitting falsehoods.

Israel is running a constant campaign against civil society groups that support the Palestinians in the West Bank, and especially in Gaza. Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in 2016 that World Vision must have known about Halabi’s transgressions because, “I imagine that in the World Vision organization, which is very anti-Israeli, they turned a blind eye.” There was no evidence for this allegation.

Erdan further alleged without proof that World Vision had allowed Halabi to transfer $7 million of the organization’s funds annually to Hamas. Expert witnesses for the defense have testified that it would be impossible to have committed fraud on such a scale in Gaza because the World Vision budget was $22.5 million over the entire decade. In fact, according to his lawyer, Halabi was trying hard to keep World Vision’s activities away from Hamas, despite the militant group’s control over the strip.

Israel held Halabi incommunicado for 50 days after his arrest in 2016, after which Israeli authorities falsely claimed that he had confessed to the allegations against him. A gag order meant that nobody in the public even knew he had been arrested, and at the time, the head of World Vision in Australia, Tim Costello, blasted Israel for not allowing Halabi access to a lawyer. Halabi and Hanna both told me that he was tortured by Israel during this period of incarceration, which included solitary confinement and beatings.

The Australian government was quick to suspend its financial support to World Vision projects in Gaza in 2016. The Australian ambassador to Israel at the time, Dave Sharma, called the allegations “deeply disturbing.” But by 2017, an investigation by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) concluded that there was no basis to support the claim that Halabi had diverted any Australian money to Hamas. 

World Vision has supported Halabi during the entire legal process, and two internal investigations found no evidence to support the Israeli allegations against him.

Today, World Vision continues to serve thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but its Gaza programs remain suspended until the Halabi case is resolved. According to a U.S.-based spokeswoman Sharon Marshall, the Christian organization has “yet to see any substantive evidence to support the charges against Mohammed Halabi.”

“We continue to follow the court process but are not asserting any pressure regarding timing (or anything else about the trial),” she continued. “While governments including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia and others continue to support our work around the world, they are not directly involved in or supporting the Halabi case.”

Palestinians receive aid packs from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA) in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on September 27, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)


The last public comment from World Vision about the trial, a statement from 2017, is scathing of Israeli actions negatively affecting its ability to operate in Gaza. “We remain deeply concerned with this situation, and are saddened by the impact on Gaza’s children and their families,” it said. “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.”

Mohammed el Talabi's mother

Halabi’s father, Khalil Halabi, who is based in Gaza and has worked for UNRWA for 40 years, tells me that his son’s health has been affected by incarceration. After his 2016 arrest, Mohammed was tortured and beaten around the head by Israeli officials, he says, and as a result he suffered 40 percent hearing loss. “The Israeli authorities targeted my son to tighten the siege on Gaza Strip,” Khalil says.

Mohammed Halabi explains to me, through his lawyer who recently visited him in jail, that his physical health has seriously suffered during imprisonment due to the Israeli authorities restricting access to appropriate dental care.

***

The pace of Halabi’s trial has been absurdly slow. The trial began in August 2016 and there have been more than 100 court hearings. In early 2017, an Israeli judge told Halabi that he should accept a plea deal because there was “little chance” he wouldn’t be convicted. Judge Nasser Abu Taha of the Be’er Sheva District Court reminded the accused that conviction rates were extremely high in similar cases. “You’ve read the numbers and the statistics,” the judge said in March 2017. “You know how these issues are handled.” Halabi refused, instead preferring to prove his innocence. Hanna says that the prosecution expected Halabi would take a plea deal, as most Palestinians in similar situations do.

Asked about the length of the case, Eden Klein, the Foreign Press Spokesperson from the Israeli Ministry of Justice, told me that, “the trial, during which dozens of witnesses have testified, is still ongoing. Naturally such proceedings may take time.” The spokesperson refused to say whether Israel had ongoing conversations with Australia or World Vision about the trial.

Halabi’s Jerusalem-based lawyer, Hanna, tries to visit Halabi as often as possible but says Israel constantly puts obstacles in his way when needing to spend sufficient time with his imprisoned client. “I’ve often not been able visit or sit with him and I can’t give him any materials to read,” Hanna says. “I could only speak to him over the phone and I presume somebody was listening in on the call. I can now visit him but only spend three to four hours with him and that’s not enough. When I want to visit him, authorities often find excuses to stop me.”

Hanna says that Halabi is now doing relatively well psychologically but is frustrated with the slowness of the trial. Halabi has not been allowed to testify in English, never receives accurate translations of the court proceedings, and Israeli authorities have consistently refused to record the hearings to assist in translation.

As of April 2019, according to the Israeli Prison Service and military, 5,152 Palestinian security detainees and political prisoners were being held in Israeli prisons, many of whom are imprisoned without charge or trial under administrative detention.

Last December, Hanna suggested to the court that Halabi could be released to house arrest and wear an electronic ankle monitor. Israeli authorities said that Halabi was too dangerous and the court refused.

Halabi believes his arrest was part of a “fishing expedition in order to attempt to increase the siege on the residents of Gaza. They were not only attacking me but the entire system of humanitarian aid to Gaza, of which I was only a part.” He says that he’s being punished by the Israeli court for refusing to accept a plea deal, and that when released, he intends to “continue my humanitarian activities for the needy children and to help improve the quality of life of the residents of Gaza or anywhere else in the world.”

One of the main obstacles in defending Halabi is Israel’s refusal to allow his attorney to visit Gaza and meet witnesses who could bolster his case. The court has also refused to grant permits for many Palestinian witnesses from Gaza who want to testify in Halabi’s defense. The prosecution alleges that Halabi is sending messages from prison to witnesses in Gaza to dissuade them from coming to his defense because their attendance and evidence would destroy his story.

Hanna says that the opposite is true; he’s begging the Israeli authorities to bring these people from Gaza because they’re so keen to testify in Halabi’s case and explain his innocence. These witnesses are called “terrorists” by Israel, despite Hanna explaining to the court that they are civilians in Gaza. They are refused permission to enter Israel for Halabi’s trial, when in fact, several of these witnesses have already entered Israel for personal reasons and traveled out of the country.


 

After three years, the prosecution has barely brought any witnesses except Shin Bet operatives and a person whose identity Hanna says he cannot reveal.

Hanna dismisses the Israeli claims that state secrets are the reason the case is taking so long. The only reason the “evidence” against Halabi is kept secret, Hanna says, “is because if the information was revealed it would be a very big scandal. People will laugh that this is the information that Israel is using. Israel would be embarrassed.”

In contrast to the standard burden of proof in criminal law, where the state must prove that someone is guilty, in security cases like Halabi’s “we have to prove innocence beyond a reasonable doubt,” Hanna says. “It contradicts what we learned in law school.”

***

The media coverage around the Halabi case makes for a grim case study in journalistic independence. When he was arrested and charged in 2016, both Israeli and global media covered the case extensively, largely republishing unsubstantiated Israeli claims as fact.

Even rarer, was any mention of the various ways that Palestinians are pressured to admit to charges, from plea deals that spare years behind bars while awaiting trial (like Halabi’s case), to torture, to the use of secret evidence, to the threat of administrative detention.

“What bothers me the most,” Hanna says, “is when I Google Mohammed Halabi and it says that he’s admitted collaborating with Hamas. It’s unfair that my hands are tied to respond to this.”

After three years of the Halabi case, the public still knows virtually nothing about his situation. Even more absurdly, Halabi and his legal team are often in the dark when it comes to seeing hard evidence and following proper legal procedures. That few of the reporters who originally covered Halabi’s arrest now seem interested in his case says a great deal about the parlous state of independent journalism and thought when covering the Israeli political and legal systems.