Another Gazan aid worker arrested: Grand Hamas plot or baseless Israeli crackdown?

Published March 22nd, 2017 - 02:54 GMT
Palestinian women pause amid buildings destroyed during the Israeli summer 2014 assault on in Gaza. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian women pause amid buildings destroyed during the Israeli summer 2014 assault on in Gaza. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The allegations against Gazan aid workers recently arrested by Israel have all the makings of a massive scandal. Vast sums of money stolen from the neediest. Charities used as cover by members of a violent militant group. Secret double lives.

Doubts about previous cases continued to swirl yesterday, however, as the Israeli authorities announced that a Gazan aid worker had been arrested at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel on February 12.

Muhammad Murtaja, the Gaza head for the Turkish TIKA charity, was an active member of the Islamist group Hamas since 2008, the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet said in a statement.

They alleged that he diverted funds from the agency to Hamas members and their families, as well as planning to gather information inside Israel intended to improve the accuracy of Hamas rockets.

Murtaja’s lawyer denied that any of the charges against his client were true in an interview with the state-run Turkish news agency Andalou.

Israeli government spokespeople promoted the arrest widely on social media. Their postings appeared to report the allegations as fact, despite Murtaja not yet being found guilty, in videos such as this one:

The Israeli government reporting of the incident resembled that of another two high-profile arrests of Gaza humanitarian workers, and came the same day as a major development in one of the cases.

Mohammad al-Halabi, the Gaza head of World Vision, was arrested on 15 June 2016 at the Erez crossing. He was accused by Israel of being a Hamas member and funnelling “millions” of dollars to them, allegations that were also tweeted by spokesman Ofir Gendelman:

Halabi has denied the charges and World Vision have said they have not not seen any evidence to support them.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday said it had found no evidence to suggest any Australian government aid had been funnelled to Hamas by Halabi.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which publicized many of the early claims against Halabi, told Al Bawaba that it had no comment on the Australian report.

A Halabi family representative told Al Bawaba that they were not surprised no evidence of wrongdoing was found by the report. “We know our son, he is innocent, and his work was humanitarian and not affiliated to any political factions.”

Also in August 2016, the Shin Bet accused Waheed al-Bursh of abusing his position with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to assist Hamas by deliberately redirecting building materials to the group.

Bursh was found guilty in January 2017 of “providing services to an illegal entity, without intent to cause harm” a UNDP statement said. The same statement noted that the outcome confirmed that there had been no wrongdoing by UNDP.

Al Bawaba asked the Israeli MFA spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon if the arrests - and a decline in permits granted for humanitarian workers to access or leave the strip - represented a change in policy towards charities. He denied that this was the case.

However, Ben White, a journalist and commentator on Palestinian affairs, told Al Bawaba that, “the cases of Halabi and Bursh - which have lacked respect for due process and been marred with credible allegations of torture - are a disturbing indication of a crackdown.”

“It is in order to distract from the absence of a political vision for Gaza that Israel seeks to promote a narrative that Hamas is itself responsible for the humanitarian suffering in the Gaza Strip, including through unproven allegations of widespread NGO corruption."

Nahshon, the MFA spokesman, disagreed. “We just have more and more proof of Hamas taking advantage of international organizations.”

Jacob Burns

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