Under the Guise of Charity

In August, Israeli security forces indicted Mohammed el-Halabi, a Hamas member since his youth and Director of the Gaza branch of  World Vision, a global Christian relief and development organization. This connection between Hamas and a worldwide charity should come as no surprise. Many terrorist organizations raise funds for their operations through the exploitation of charities; either by infiltrating the leadership of a legitimate charity, co-opting it and diverting funds or alternatively, by creating front charities that pose as legitimate ones.

Since its inception in the 1980’s Hamas has abused charitable efforts taking resources allocated for hospitals, schools, infrastructure and development and diverting them instead to fund recruitment and training of terrorists, terror operations and payments to martyrs families. In 2008, in the largest victory against terrorist financing in the U.S., five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, a US.-based Muslim charity, were convicted for funneling 12 million USD to Hamas. Hamas intentionally set up the Holy Land to siphon money from US donors. The U.S. Treasury Department designated The Holy Land Foundation as a “Specially Designated Terrorist” group and shut down its operations.

Mohammad el-Halabi’s indictment revealed Hamas’ intentional tactic of infiltrating “clean” charities. el-Halabi told investigators he was sent by Hamas’ leadership specifically to infiltrate World Vision since he and his father had worked for the UN Development Programme. (The connection between UN employees in Gaza and Hamas is a subject for a separate post) Once inside World Vision, el-Halabi began diverting funds and moved up the hierarchy. As director, he established and promoted fictitious humanitarian projects, such as a treatment center for the mentally disabled, as a cover to siphon 60% of the charity’s annual budget to Hamas’ military wing. el-Halabi also admitted to disguising Hamas warehouses as World Vision warehouses, taking needed supplies for civilians and using it to support Hamas members and their families.

This case, one of many, highlights the “veil of legitimacy” charities provide terrorist organizations. Hamas and others hide their inhumane behavior behind humanitarian causes, claiming they are doing heroic work, saving the deprived and desperate Palestinian people. We must not be fooled, as was the UK Charity Commission, by Hamas’ guise. They are not helping the Palestinian people and they have no intention to do so. They are taking our money and funding their goal, total victory over the state of Israel.

This case also calls to attention the need for stricter NGO laws. Charities are an easy target for terrorist exploitation because charities have less regulatory requirements than other financial institutions. The loose rules for record keeping, reporting and monitoring make it easier to move and hide funds and the lighter restrictions for professional certification or background checks for staff members and trustees allow terrorists to easily infiltrate.

If we are going to dry up the flow of funding to Hamas, governments must adopt tighter NGO laws that monitor and track NGO behavior. Furthermore, as Gerald Steinberg argued in his op-ed, there is a need for global NGOs operating in terror-controlled zones to adopt greater “transparency, accountability and detailed guidelines”. Most importantly, we must unmask Hamas, revealing them for the true terrorist they are, not falling for their fake kindness and the humanitarian saviors they wish us to see them as. Let us be diligent about where we donate our money so that it falls into the hands of those helping humanity and not into the hands of those seeking to destroy it.