‘Longest trial in history’: Palestinian aid worker charged with funding Hamas attends 129th hearing
A former charity manager in the Gaza Strip accused of funding Hamas has attended court for the 129th time in what has become the longest trial of its kind in Israel’s history, dragging on as witnesses are blocked from testifying.
The 41-year-old aid worker, Muhammed al-Halabi, was arrested in June 2016 while working for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian group, charged with funnelling kickbacks to Hamas and its armed wing. For nearly four years, however, Halabi has been denied his proper day in court, instead forced to endure an endless series of stop-go proceedings in which key witnesses are barred from testifying.
His most recent hearing on Wednesday was no different, quickly hitting a dead end soon after it began.
“Today’s hearing was cancelled shortly after it started because the witnesses were not present,” Halabi’s brother, Hamed, told Middle East Eye. “The prosecution then threatened that any witnesses who come from Gaza to give their testimony will be detained.”
They do not want anyone to prove them wrong. All the eyewitnesses and even the officials at World Vision gave proof that he was innocent. But this is not what the prosecution is looking for.
The Israeli government has denied travel permits to crucial witnesses in the former charity worker’s case, preventing them from leaving Gaza to give testimony in Israeli courts. Halabi’s lawyer, Maher Hanna, says that guarantees he cannot receive a fair trial.
One of those witnesses – the owner of a company implicated in the alleged money transfer scheme – “could totally undermine the accusations they made against Muhammed,” Hanna told the Times of Israel. “He has begged Israel to allow him to go to the court and testify, but they have not permitted him to do so.”
A father of five from Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp, Halabi has maintained his innocence since his 2016 arrest and refused to confess to the charges, according to his family, despite facing pressure and even threats from judges. His father said that at one his hearings, a judge promised “long term imprisonment” if Halabi did not admit to collaborating with terrorist groups.
“[The judge] threatened him and tried to force him to confirm the accusations in front of everyone,” Halabi’s father told Middle East Eye.
Halabi’s family also says he has suffered “horrific torture” at the hands of Israeli authorities during several interrogations, including beatings, humiliation and forced sleep deprivation.
A former employee at World Vision said Halabi’s case was part of an ongoing attack on the charity’s aid work in the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian territories.
“There was a political attack on the organisation given that one of its main offices is in the United States,” the employee, who wished to remain anonymous, told Middle East Eye. “The Israeli lobby in the US must have played a major role in impeding the work of the organisation.”
Halabi’s father seconded that take, adding “They know very well that he is innocent, but they cannot release him after four years of interrogation and torture and prove themselves wrong.”
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