|A Hamas/Gaza tunnel under construction, October 2013 [Image Source]|
But strangely those who are most identified with doing humanitarian good for the Palestinian Arabs don't appear to be in the front lines of those expressing deep concern at the harm such diversions have caused. And that's an understatement.
One of the most visible signs of where the cash goes (that's present tense - no one believes the scandal has been stopped) is the tunnels of Gaza. The latest news from there - just this month and just from Palestinian Arab sources indicates this vast engineering project is not going smoothly:
- August 6, 2016: "The al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, has reported that one of its fighters was killed, Saturday, when a tunnel collapsed on him, in the Gaza Strip. In a statement, al-Qassam said the fighter has been identified as Khaled Methqal al-Hoor, 23... According to the al-Qassam Brigades, ten of its fighters have been killed in several tunnel accidents in several parts of the Gaza Strip, since the beginning of this year." [IMEMC, a Palestinian media source which "combines Palestinian journalists’ deep understanding of the context, history, and the socio-political environment with International journalists’ skills in non-partisan reporting."]
- August 10, 2016: "Eight Palestinians were injured when a tunnel collapsed in the al-Shujayya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, local sources told Ma’an. They were taken to al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to be treated for light to moderate injuries, according to Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra. The incident came after three Palestinians died over recent weeks in tunnel collapse accidents in the Gaza Strip. On Saturday, a member of Hamas' military wing the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades was killed, and in mid-July, two members of the Islamic Jihad were killed in separate incidents..." [Ma'an News Agency, based in Bethlehem]
- August 14, 2016: "...A member of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas movement, was killed by an electric shock on Saturday while working inside a tunnel in the besieged Gaza Strip. The military wing released a statement confirming the death of Muhammad Shlouf from the city of Gaza... The Hamas movement which governs the blockaded Palestinian territory has been allegedly reconstructing a vast tunnel network intended to be used for carrying out attacks on Israeli military targets and civilians, swathes of which were destroyed during the war... The Institute for Palestine Studies reported in 2012 that Hamas authorities had counted 160 deaths inside the tunnels since the Israeli blockade began in 2007, and in August 2014, al-Jazeera reported that figure to be as high as 400." [IMEMC]
This is one of the Middle East's most ambitious current undertakings, ignoring the mind-blowingly, astronomically-expensive preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar about which we wrote here: "11-Jul-13: Football and barefaced hypocrisy". And in a world where there are no free lunches, someone's paying for it. Paying for the construction and materials, that is. Essential safety equipment is evidently still looking for a donor.
This is infrastructure investment on a truly serious scale. So, in hideous terms, is the pay-off:
"A Hamas operative who was captured in June after illegally crossing into Israel revealed that the terrorist group’s fighters can travel underground throughout the entirety of Gaza." [The Tower, August 11, 2016]
|This is Gaza too: the Al-Mashtal Hotel as it looked some years|
ago [Image Source: Reuters]
It's a weighty charge if true. The WSJ analysis is driven mainly by recent events here in Israel where sensational criminal prosecutions have recently been brought against Palestinian Arab individuals alleging they succeeded in diverting aid money into the hands of Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations. Many millions of dollars are involved.
Sounding an ambitious note, Feith addresses the scandal we have long called here the PA's Rewards for Terror Scheme:
This revelation should spur a broader reassessment of American aid to the Palestinian government... [since] the Palestinian government has used U.S. and other foreign taxpayers’ money to pay generous rewards to the families of terrorists. The deadlier the crime, the larger the prize, up to about $3,100 a month, or several times the average salary of a worker in Palestine’s non-terrorist economy... No U.S. official can plead ignorance. Palestinian law has sanctioned these payments since at least 2004, specifying how much money is earned depending on the circumstances of the attacker and the body count. [WSJ, August 11, 2016]Should spur a broader reassessment. But almost certainly will not.
This happens while the Hamas regime in Gaza, along with its humanitarian-aid-industry co-conspirators and principally UNRWA ["Gaza Emergency"], continues to make the case that the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza are undergoing prolonged suffering from a lack of housing reconstruction. Yes, there's a connection. Cash, cement and goodwill have been pouring into Gaza yet those houses remain piles of rubble. UNRWA's most recent Gaza Situation Report, dated August 12, 2016, like all those before it, makes approximately zero references to the malevolent hand of Hamas in repurposing humanitarian aid into terrorist resources. (Repurposing in this context means stealing.)
The reassessment of foreign aid programs and charitable subventions ought to, but almost surely will not, be affected the factors disclosed in those recent Israeli revelations.
To divert the funds, the Shin Bet said el-Halabi initiated fictitious projects meant to help farmers, the disabled and fishermen. He would falsely list Hamas operatives as workers on those projects and write up inflated receipts, according to the Shin Bet. Companies hired to carry out certain projects under fictitious tenders were “made aware” that 60 percent of the project’s funds were destined for Hamas, the Shin Bet statement said, adding that some of World Vision’s budget was used to pay the salaries of Hamas operatives. The Shin Bet also said el-Halabi would transfer to Hamas materials such as steel, digging equipment and pipes that were meant for World Vision agricultural assistance. Thousands of packages with food and medical aid received monthly would allegedly be diverted to Hamas operatives and their families rather than reach Gazan civilians. Beyond arms purchases and tunnel digging, the funds also helped build military bases, including one constructed in 2015 built entirely from British aid money, according to the Shin Bet. The security agency also said that since his arrest, el-Halabi divulged intelligence about employees working for United Nations agencies and other aid groups who were also assisting Hamas, without elaborating. [Associated Press, August 4, 2016]
An official from Save the Children was also allegedly turned to Hamas, according to Halabi’s charge sheet. [Times of Israel, August 11, 2016]There quickly followed further Israeli charges said to implicate the United Nations via its UNDP arm:
Israeli authorities have announced charges against a Palestinian employee of a United Nations agency, accusing the Gaza resident of providing "material assistance" to Hamas. According to a statement released on Tuesday by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA), or Shin Bet, 38-year-old engineer Waheed Borsh was arrested on July 16 and charged in a Beersheva court on Tuesday. The indictment accused the UN Development Programme (UNDP) staffer Borsh of abusing his position to renovate Hamas members' homes, having been recruited by "a senior member of the Hamas terrorist organisation to redirect his work for UNDP to serve Hamas' military interests". The ISA claimed that Borsh had confessed to the charges, and admitted that "other Palestinians who work for aid organisations are also working for Hamas". According to the ISA, the case exemplifies "how Hamas exploits the resources of international aid organisations at the expense of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip"... In a statement, UNDP said it was "greatly concerned" by the Israeli allegation that Borsh had "complied with a request from a senior Hamas individual to transport 300 tonnes of rubble from a UNDP rubble removal project site to a Hamas-run location at the Northern Gaza Hamas-operated port". UNDP added that it will be "conducting a thorough internal review of the processes and circumstances surrounding the allegation". [Aljazeera, August 09, 2016]
Matters are considerably worse, as we view them, when you consider that the diverted and abused funds are charitable and/or characterized as foreign aid, making a reasonable person think the trustees of the cash would have bent over backwards to defend their probity.
But that reasonable person would be wrong. Nothing - for all practical purposes - has happened until now, even though the consequences are huge.
That's expressed well in a statement published last week by Robert Piper, an Australian development aid coordinator for the UN who, since May 2015, has been the Jerusalem-based Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, with the rank of UN Assistant Secretary General. He said:
Israel’s accusations against el-Halabi “raise serious concerns for humanitarian organizations working in Gaza.” “Redirecting relief away from its intended beneficiaries would be a profound betrayal of the trust put in a senior manager by his employer and by the organization’s donors,” Piper said. “Everyone would pay a high price for such acts – beneficiaries and the wider aid effort alike. If proven by a due legal process, these actions deserve unreserved condemnation; Gaza’s demoralized and vulnerable citizens deserve so much better.” ["World Vision: ‘Huge gap’ in Israeli terror funding allegations", Times of Israel, August 08, 2016]Unfortunately there have been few signs from the aid agencies themselves that they acknowledge the problems (other than the problem of facing accusations from the unloved government of Israel) and in particular that their internal checks are lacking. At the UNDP, they are now saying they have
zero tolerance for wrongdoing in all of its programmes and projects [The Guardian, August 9, 2016]so look elsewhere for solutions, they seem to say. This is bold and brave of them considering that two years ago, an internal UN audit report found serious short-comings including
- Their Gaza operation should have been using an electronic funds transfer system with local banks that would have allowed the UNDP program to “be notified electronically when any bank transactions take place,” including, as the report delicately puts it, “transactions not made by UNDP.” But it didn't use it. Why? Good question.
- Core procurement processes for ordering up “significant” civil construction activities that were supposed to be handled strictly by staffers - were not. Outsiders somehow got into the process. Why? Anyone's guess. The auditors called this a “critical” lapse and demanded “prompt action... to ensure that UNDP is not exposed to high risks. Failure to take action could result in major negative consequences for UNDP.” We will watch to see whether this fault gets mentioned in future media reports.
- "The office’s internal financial tracking system — a UNDP-wide system known as Atlas — was improperly recording at least $8 million worth of civil construction spending at far less than its full value, a practice that UNDP auditors noted could keep the activity under the radar of higher-level U.N. officials who must approve purchase orders above defined cost threshold levels."
- Expenditures and receipts were not adequately tracked in the financial system. For instance, a sampling of 41 payment vouchers showed 12 purchase orders had no receipts recorded. “This practice,” the report noted, “increases the risk of paying for goods that are not delivered.” [Fox News, August 11, 2014]
has cast doubt on Israel's accusations, saying they seemed implausible... [NPR, August 9, 2016]And at Hamas, they amazingly
denied that Halabi was a member... [as well as] denied the allegations. A spokesperson, Sami Abu Zurhi, called the accusations “false and baseless”, saying they were designed to allow Israel to strengthen its “siege” of Gaza... [The Guardian, August 9, 2016]Prof. Gerald Steinberg, an authority on transparency and the lack thereof in funding across borders (and president of the esteemed NGO Monitor, a research institute based here in Jerusalem) had some points to make on this in a powerful op ed in the Wall Street Journal three days ago:
World Vision leaders such as Tim Costello of the charity’s Australian branch, which provided a significant portion of World Vision JWG’s 2014 budget of more than $20 million, took refuge in distant accounting firms. “We have PricewaterhouseCoopers that audit us each year,” Mr. Costello said. But Mr. Costello and his peers at other aid groups should be aware that no international auditing firm can independently track funds in terror enclaves. In Gaza, there are no receipts for the numerous cash transactions that were conducted via World Vision. Even if there were, how would the auditors verify their authenticity? Indeed, the audit claim wasn’t enough to convince the Australian government, which immediately froze the $5.7 million annual budget granted to World Vision. Germany soon followed suit. The broader problem is that due diligence for humanitarian aid in war and terror zones requires the allocation of significant resources and a professional staff capable of detaching itself from the pressures and sympathies of the local environment. World Vision, like most aid groups operating in Gaza, clearly failed in this respect... Mr. Halabi’s arrest should be cautionary moment for other international aid organizations with operations in Gaza such as Care, Christian Aid, Oxfam and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The need to deal realistically with operations in a terror-controlled zone like Gaza, and the costs of failing to perform due diligence, should be apparent. World Vision’s auditing claims notwithstanding, cash payments in Gaza are a direct path to corruption and diversion to terror. They should be ended immediately... ["The Palestinian Charity Trap", WSJ, August 11, 2016]The charges of malfeasance have not stopped coming. We know, for instance, from an AFP report, that
Aid workers privately admit to feeling pressure from Hamas, with the powerful group seeking to influence how projects are organized. In a few rare cases NGOs have seen their offices temporary closed by Hamas... ["Foreign aid workers fear the impact of Hamas allegations", AFP/Saudi Gazette, August 11, 2016]here] we just mentioned also implicates the highly problematic UNRWA (the UN's pseudo refugee agency whose existence is predicated on a never-ending "Palestinian refugee problem") about which we have written often and with passion). Turns out
the main purpose of the UNDP program, based in Jerusalem and like all U.N. activities operating under diplomatic immunity from any national authorities, was to provide funding and support for what the document chastely calls “another U.N. entity” that coordinates the world organization’s activity in Gaza. That “entity” is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, which has been accused for years... of allowing Hamas to divert humanitarian supplies to its own military purposes. UNWRA has some 13,000 employees in Gaza, the overwhelming majority of them local Palestinians... [Fox News, August 11, 2014]The problems at UNRWA, unique but hardly new, stem from factors outlined in sharp terms two years ago in the Wall Street Journal (again). That piece shows how the multi-billion-dollar agency agency is unusual, and unusually unaccountable compared with other UN operations, by reason of at least these three factors:
Israel's concern for the well-being of the Gazans, suffering for years already under the jackboot of a kleptocratic Fatah regime and then, for the past nine years, under the ruthless Islamists of Hamas, may not be top of its list of concerns. But it's undoubtedly a concern. Whether out of altruism or self-interest, there are few voices in Israel calling for an enlargement of Gaza's undoubted plight.
- All other refugees world-wide fall under the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Only the Palestinians have their own dedicated U.N. refugee agency, offering special access to the perquisites of the U.N. logo, stage and fundraising.
- Almost all other U.N. agencies report to an executive board, allowing at least some chance of functional oversight. Unrwa reports directly to the entire 193-member General Assembly, where responsibility is broadly dispersed and easily avoided. According to a paper in 2010 by the agency's own chief of legal affairs, Lance Bartholomeusz, UNRWA enjoys the added flexibility of having no clearly defined mission: "its mandate is not conveniently stated in one place and must be derived from all other relevant resolutions and requests."
- Thus unencumbered, UNRWA has ensured its own survival by transforming itself into the patron of Palestinian grievance, conferring refugee status down the generations... ["The U.N. Handmaiden of Hamas", Claudia Rosett in the Wall Street Journal, August 07, 2014]
Here's an instance of the sort of Israeli voice Israelis are hearing even if the Arabs aren't. Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai is Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit, better known as COGAT. It's a hybrid civilian/military body with a mission
to promote and implement the policy of the Israeli Government in civilian matters, to facilitate humanitarian issues and economic and infrastructure projects in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip. In addition, the unit leads the coordination and liaison with the Palestinian Authority and with the Palestinian population the West Bank and the Gaza Strip... [fuller description here].Mordechai, speaking in Arabic in the wake of el-Halabi's confession to the charges of subverting World Vision funding into the pockets of Hamas. addressed the Palestinian Arabs:
Hamas stole this money and passed it to its military wing to build bases, provide salary bonuses and dig the tunnels of death that have brought destruction upon you and the Gaza Strip... Hamas is burying you and your hope of living a normal life. [Associated Press, August 4, 2016]We can't know what impact this speech had ordinary people in Gaza, or even whether they know it happened. (Freedom of information is currently scarcer in Gaza than Olympic-size pools.) But if a mission, which Israel plainly has undertaken, to produce greater benefits to ordinary Gazans from more efficient delivery of foreign aid and from less siphoning off into the maw of the terrorists, were genuinely shared by the humanitarian aid industry, there's little doubt that the benefits would be widespread and meaningful.
Israelis have always understood that the Palestinian Arabs need to have something to lose in order to be motivated to make the compromises from which peace is fashioned. Hamas and Fatah understand that too; hence the decades-long efforts to give their people literally nothing to lose from the conflict continuing.
But let's acknowledge that if that kind of sea change were to happen, it would likely lead to a rapid, substantial and irreversible cut in the headcount of certain high-profile, billion-dollar aid agencies.
And most of us know what sort of response that will trigger.
UPDATE August 17, 2016: For additional context, friends have suggested we re-post here a remarkable Tweet by the New York Times Jerusalem correspondent. We're glad to do that. Diaa Hadid and her editors seem to feel that what news consumers are missing is some self-justification by the man accused of embezzling World Vision - a disturbingly odd moral judgment but perhaps in tune with the ethos of today's journalism as practiced by the New York Times and others following in its path:
The man Israel accuses of diverting @WorldVision funds to Hamas lost 7 relatives in 2014 war, incl pregnant cousin https://t.co/sPOnhkfpHd— Diaa Hadid ضياء حديد (@diaahadid) August 4, 2016
If it's no longer posted on Twitter (here), we have archived it here. We asked (via repeated Twitter posts) both the New York Times people and Ms Hadid to explain how these claims bear on the extremely serious charges against the World Vision man. No answer.
[Our thanks once again to Malgorzata Koraszewska for having translated this article into Polish. It now appears in that language on the Listy z naszego sadu site.]