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World Vision Australia Rejects Allegations it Provided Financial Aid to Terrorists

May 20, 2013 – 5:36 pm8 Comments
A promotional image for World Vision Australia’s Gaza campaign.

A promotional image for World Vision’s Gaza campaign.

By Tim McCormack
The Israeli NGO Shurat HaDin (Israel Law Centre) first wrote to World Vision Australia (WVA) in February 2012 claiming that our AusAID-funded agricultural development project with the Palestinian organisation – the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) – violated Australian and US counter-terrorism legislation because, they claimed, UAWC is an arm of the proscribed terrorist organisation the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Shurat HaDin alleged that WVA’s financial assistance to the UAWC ‘directly or indirectly makes assets available to the PFLP’. Shurat HaDin’s strategy is to initiate legal action against financiers of terrorism and the organisation has had some significant awards of damages in US courts.  They threatened to sue WVA if we did not terminate our project with the UAWC.

WVA and AusAID both took Shurat HaDin’s allegations seriously and undertook their own investigations. In late May 2012, AusAID publicly announced that it had dismissed all Shurat HaDin’s claims against UAWC. AusAID based its conclusions upon its consultations with agencies such as the DFAT Sanctions and Transnational Crimes Section, the AFP and ASIO. AusAID also stated that its legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor was that no offence had been identified and that the AFP had advised there would be no further criminal investigation.

WVA conducted its own extensive enquiry into the UAWC organisation and systematically investigated each detail of Shurat HaDin’s allegations. WVA agrees, for example, that the UAWC was closely linked to the PFLP at its inception in the 1980s. Each of the various PLO factions established their own grass-roots organisations in various sectors – agriculture, health, childcare services etc – and the UAWC was the agricultural organisation affiliated with the PFLP. Shurat HaDin has repeatedly cited a 1993 Report prepared for USAID to substantiate their assertion of the historical ties between the PFLP and the UAWC. WVA located this 1993 report, tracked down the author of it and engaged in correspondence with him and also with other experts on the structure of Palestinian organisations. Our understanding on the basis of these communications is that the PLO-factional affiliation of grass-roots Palestinian organisations in the 1980s (including the PFLP with the UAWC) changed after the signing of the Oslo Accords. From then, various Palestinian organisations, including the UAWC, professionalized their activities and management structures and distanced themselves from political factionalisation. In the post-Oslo era, Shurat HaDin is the only organisation we can identify that claims ‘the PFLP is the controlling hand of UAWC’. The author of the Report on which Shurat HaDin relies certainly does not agree with Shurat HaDin’s assertion of ongoing PFLP control of the UAWC.  Indeed, in addition to AusAID/WVA the UAWC counts among its donors the Governments of Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain as well UNDP, UNRWA and a number of international charities.

In July 2012 WVA engaged the Israeli attorney Dov Weissglas. Weissglas served as Chief of Staff to Ariel Sharon (former Prime Minister of Israel) and, in that capacity, was heavily involved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians and in the implementation of Sharon’s decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip. WVA engaged Weissglas because he is highly regarded in Israel as an independent and fearless advocate and because he is well connected with senior policy-makers across a range of relevant government agencies.

On Weissglas’ recommendation, WVA engaged Prof Matti Steinberg to provide an independent opinion on Shurat HaDin’s allegations.  Steinberg is Israel’s leading intelligence analyst.  He served as the Head of the Division of Palestinian Affairs of Israel’s General Security Service (Shin Bet) and in that capacity knows Palestinian organisations, structures and relationships.  He is now an academic focused on those matters and also a consultant to Shin Bet and to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).  Steinberg prepared a written report for WVA on the UAWC relying on open sources as well as on his contacts within Israel’s intelligence community.  Steinberg’s conclusion is that there is no reliable indication to corroborate Shurat HaDin’s allegations and that, in fact, there are many indications – in deed and in word – to refute them. Steinberg placed significant emphasis on the fact that the Managing Director of the UAWC, Khalid Hidmi (a resident of East Jerusalem), travels freely between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  Steinberg’s view is that the Israeli authorities would not permit Hidmi to travel freely if the organisation he worked for really was a front for the PFLP.

Shurat HaDin claims that as an East Jerusalem resident Hidmi is free to travel in and out of Gaza and the West Bank and that, in fact, he is less restricted than an Israeli citizen in his freedom of movement.  Steinberg has a completely different view and, as will be explained, so do the Israeli authorities.

Shurat HaDin continues to make much of the role of Bashir Khairy – a former Chairman of the board of the UAWC – in particular that he has an active role for the PFLP and that he has spoken at rallies organized by different PLO organizations including the PLFP and Fatah.  WVA is aware of Khairy’s history (he was jailed for 15 years following conviction for involvement in the bombing of an Israeli supermarket by the PFLP in 1969 and has been imprisoned by the Israeli authorities several times since).  WVA is also aware that Khairy is close to Mahmoud Abbas (the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Chairman of the PLO and who has been committed to a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians) and regularly represents Abbas at major meetings and events for various PLO factions including Fatah and the PFLP.  Khairy is no longer a board member of the UAWC and is not a proscribed individual on the DFAT list of terrorists (and its equivalent in other jurisdictions).  Today, he is equally well known for his involvement in the “Open House” center for peace and reconciliation between Israeli Arabs and Jews (which has been established at Khairy’s former family home in Ramla by Khairy and Dalia Eshkanazi whose family was given the house by the Israeli government in 1948.  The Open House and Khairy’s friendship with Eshkanazi is celebrated in Sandy Tolan’s book The Lemon Tree).

I travelled to Israel with the CEO of WVA, Rev Tim Costello AO, from 30 January – 6 February 2013. One primary purpose of the trip was to further WVA’s investigations into the allegations by Shurat HaDin against the UAWC.  We met with various people and organisations in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories. All the information we received confirmed to us that the UAWC is a bona fide partner organisation and that Shurat HaDin’s allegations that it is owned and controlled by and a front for the PFLP remain unsubstantiated.

In Israel, Weissglas arranged a meeting for us with a senior IDF officer responsible for travel permits from Israel in and out of Gaza and in and out of the West Bank.  The IDF officer confirmed that he regularly consults Steinberg as Israel’s leading national security analyst and that he trusts Steinberg’s analysis implicitly.  The senior IDF officer also explicitly endorsed Steinberg’s assertion as to the implications of Khalid Hidmi’s freedom of travel and claimed that there is no way the IDF would permit Hidmi’s travel into and out of Gaza or the West Bank if the UAWC was a front for the PFLP.  Further, the IDF officer asserted that if the UAWC was indeed a front for the PFLP the Israeli authorities would shut down the organisation.  Instead, Hidmi is also permitted to travel freely from Israel to the US (he holds a multi-entry permit into and out of the US) and recently 10 Palestinian farmers (some employees of and others beneficiaries of the UAWC) were given permits to enter Israel to participate in an agricultural exhibit at kibbutzim in the Arava region.  Those permits would not have been granted if the UAWC was a front for the PFLP.

While we were in Israel we took Weissglas with us to meet with Shurat HaDin and to explain to them why we are of the view that their allegations against the UAWC remain unsubstantiated.  Shurat HaDin does not accept our findings.

We have invited Shurat HaDin to take their allegations to the Israeli authorities and we have assured them that we will take any responses seriously.  Shurat HaDin has refused to approach the Israeli authorities.  They claim that Israel has no jurisdiction over the UAWC because the organisation operates in Gaza. Weissglas reminded them that Israel never requires jurisdiction in taking action against terrorists.  Instead Israel has a policy of targeted killing of those who threaten its national security – whether they are in Gaza or the West Bank or elsewhere.  Shurat HaDin instead claims that Israel engages with terrorist organisations and so does not set the appropriate benchmark for acceptable dealings.  For example, Israel itself releases tax monies to the Palestinian Authority which, in turn, passes some of those funds onto Hamas (a proscribed terrorist organisation in Israel and most Western countries).

WVA finds itself in a ludicrous position.  The Israeli authorities themselves have expressed their satisfaction with the bona fides of the UAWC, approve of its ongoing agricultural activities and accept WVA’s project partnership with the UAWC.  Tim Costello visited Gaza and he saw some of the agricultural projects implemented by the AusAID-funded partnership with the UAWC.  He was most impressed with what he saw.  Meanwhile, Shurat HaDin asserts that WVA cannot rely on the Israeli authorities and, instead, should terminate the partnership with the UAWC because Shurat HaDin says it should.  The clear implication is that Shurat HaDin, an Israeli NGO, sees itself as a better judge of the true character of a Palestinian organisation than the relevant Israeli authorities themselves.  WVA finds that a preposterous claim and is not prepared to terminate its partnership with the UAWC on the basis of it.

Tim McCormack is a Professor of Law at Melbourne Law School,  International Observer to the Turkel Commission of Enquiry into Israel’s Processes for Investigation of Alleged Violations of the Law of Armed Conflict, and an Adviser to World Vision Australia.

Shurat HaDin has been contacted for a response, and we hope to publish their right-of-reply in the very near future.

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8 Comments »

  • g says:

    A very compelling report from WVA.
    Look forward to reading Shurat Hadin’s response!
    If Shurat Hadin’s allegations are baseless they should make a $100 000 donation to Worldvision Australia and publicly apologise for how they have tarnished WVA’s reputation.

  • Shirlee. says:

    Well G, if you have the money you are welcome to foot the bill.

    I go with Shurat HaDin’s take on the situation thanks, having been involved with them and being in receipt of their information

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    The author offers as “evidence” of non-involvement in an proscribed organisation by UAWC the following:
    – the inferrence by an IDF , be it hih ranking, officer on a very secondary assertion of the “travel allowances” of an individual as a non-interrelation between two closely related – at least ontologically – entities. In fact one “previously” subordinated to the other.
    – the other evidence of “non-involvement” is the MERE opinion of an Australian, one responsible for the very passing of funds to the questioned org., Tim Costello, and his statement upon a breif visit that hea was mpresed by some cultivated agricultural fields. To say that is excessively one-sided is an understatement

    Anyone with the slightest interest and information about the complex MO of the Israelis with their own foes would conclude that the objections by Shurat haDin are solid. Mr McCormack does not adduce here in equal measure the substantive accusations by Shurat haDin and dwells with obvious prefference on what the various defenders of the well known webb of terrorist Palestinian orgs. bring up, just as in an extrappolated fashion as him.
    Shirlee is right again, one only need look at the full Shurat haDin case against World Vision’s protegees.

  • Shirlee. says:

    Otto, in all fairness to Tim McCormack, he has seen the same information from SH as have I, as far as I am aware, and has come to a different conclusion. The point is ‘Why?”

    Having heard him speak a few months back, I doubt he has come to his decision easily.

  • In this article, WVA admits that “the UAWC was closely linked to the PFLP at its inception in the 1980s” and that “Bashir Khairy – a former Chairman of the board of the UAWC … was jailed for 15 years following conviction for involvement in the bombing of an Israeli supermarket by the PFLP in 1969 and has been imprisoned by the Israeli authorities several times since…”.
    Shurat Hadin has presented a lot of other evidence of UAWC links to terrorism (see http://www.scribd.com/doc/110665551/Alleged-breach-of-anti-terror-law-by-World-Vision-Australia-Detailed-Evidence).
    WVA and Bob Carr dismissed this evidence with little investigation from the outset, and now are spending their time finding “experts” to justify their kneejerk defensiveness.
    The question is, why do this and persist with finding excuses for continuing to fund UAWC to the tune of $800k pa of AusAID funds, when there are other organisations that aren’t associated with terrorist activities?

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Shirlee

    precisely my point, although, while I would not know what McCormack knows, I know that evidence contrary to what McCormack almost exclusively relies on is widely available. It took me 10 secs. to get at it.
    Steve Lieblich is 100% right. My contention is that, considering also statements made by several Israeli officials, in this case we are dealings with a – not so – tacit approval from certain places within the Govt. in Yerushalaim.
    I’d love to speculate, but, to give any reason, this late spring in my good ol’ Bucharest is a better temptation.

    otto,in Bucharest

  • Here is the reply from Shurat HaDin’s Attorney, Akiva (Andrew) Hamilton:

    http://galusaustralis.com/2013/05/7137/shurat-hadin-claims-world-vision-whitewash/

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    It is sad that Australia not only KNOWINGLY supports a proscribed organisation, but that respectable figures are ahppy to join the legions of hate-mongers, purveyors of farcical, twisted arguments, all within the greater and clearer picture of defiance of TRUTH and decency.
    The most important truth in this lamentable story of arrogance is that funds collected in good faith are used to ease the financial structure in a greater terrorist organisation, allowing, thus, terrorism to function more efficiently. And thus Rev. Ti Costello is a DIRECT contributor to something he would like us believe that is done in that “good faith”.
    Self inflicted blindness, lack of “vision” is no defence for World Vicion’s premeditated aid to evil.

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