Nitzan (TPS) – The Gush Katif and Northern Samaria Commemoration Center held a conference on Monday commemorating the eleventh anniversary of Israel’s “Disengagement.” Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew all Jewish presence from Gaza and four communities in northern Samaria eleven years ago in the spirit of the Road Map for Peace plan promoted by US President George W. Bush.
Several Members of Knesset attended the conference and discussed lessons that could be learned from the event.
“The Israeli government uprooted dozens of settlements and thousands of Israelis from their homes. In return, missiles rained upon our cities, our communities, and our children,” said Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud). “The argument that withdrawal would bring peace with the Palestinians, or at least bring us closer to peace, was not built on a realistic vision.”
Gamliel also argued that Israel’s presence in Gaza was not the initial cause for attacks against Israel.
“Whoever thinks that the continued hostility against Israel is a result of our presence in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza is mistaken,” she claimed.
“We were attacked before a single Israeli soldier was ever in Judea and Samaria,” continued Gamliel, referencing instances in which Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors in the years before Israel gained control of Judea and Samaria in 1967.
Gamliel insisted that Israel must stop the Palestinian Authority from allowing and encouraging incitement to take place in communities under its jurisdiction.
“We should demand first and foremost the cessation of incitement in the Palestinian Authority and we have to hope that the Israeli people learned a moral lesson from the expulsion in that there should be no further expulsion of Jews,” she stressed. “So long as entire generations in the Palestinian Authority are taught to be anti-Semitic, there is no chance for peace.”
Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, who was also in attendance, said that she had disagreed with the Disengagement when it was implemented.
“I was opposed to the Disengagement at the time,” Michaeli said. “I thought that although we had to leave the Gaza Strip, we could not tear the community apart without ensuring that security and quiet would follow. In other words, we should have left with an agreement.”
Although MK Michaeli acknowledged that Israel has faced threats to its security from Gaza in the years following the Disengagement, she expressed her belief that the Disengagement ultimately saved lives, albeit having been implemented in the wrong manner.
“The question now is what to do next,” she asked, adding that she hoped that a future solution to the conflict would allow as many people to remain in their homes as possible.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said on Sunday that there is no legal obstacle barring a review of the status of lands adjacent to the community of Amona in Benjamin regional council, to start a discussion of potentially moving there the residents of the community which has been slated for demolition by the end of the year by the supreme court. Mandelblit spoke at a discussion with government officials of regulating the status of Amona.
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Amona community is illegal under Israeli law, based on petitions of presumed original Arab owners of the land who had been rounded up by anti-Zionist groups like Peace Now and Yesh Din. Since then, the court has ruled again on the Amona case, ordering that the Jewish residents must be evacuated, the housing and infrastructure destroyed and the area be handed to the Arabs.
According to the Amona residents, when the community was founded in 1995 it was by a state initiative, promoted by then housing minister Natan Sharansky, who invested millions of dollars in creating an infrastructure, paving roads and promoting construction, all of it under the auspices of the state. If there were irregularities with the land purchase, it was the state’s problem, not theirs. Had they known the land was privately owned they would have stayed away, but they were told by the state to move in — let the state deal with the alleged original owners.
It should be noted that when Mandelblit was being considered for the AG appointment, he was favored by the right for his idea that in just these kinds of cases, with anti-Jewish settlement activists signing up claimants against existing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, and the claimants prove ownership (which is not so hard to do considering the land registration archives are kept in Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority) — said claimants be compelled to accept fair market value for the property, or comparable property. Mind you, this is after some Arab real estate agent had received full pay for the same land.
Now, despite his wise recommendation on grandfathering existing Jewish communities, the AG is obviously feeling that he can’t go to battle against a clear Supreme Court ruling to demolish Amona, and so he recommends finding an alternative land not for the alleged Arab owners, but for the very real Jewish residents instead.
Amona was the site of one of the most brutal attacks of Israeli government forces on Jewish residents in the state’s history. On February 1, 2006, Amona Jewish residents and protesters were evacuated by 10,000 Israeli Police, Border Police, and Army troops. The estimated 4,000 Jews on the Amona grounds mostly consisted of youths from nearby communities. More than 300 were injured, including some 80 security personnel. Among the injured were three Knesset members. After several hours, the Amona homes had been demolished. A few girls that were evacuated accused police officers of sexual assault.
In March 2006, the Knesset parliamentary inquiry into the events at Amona determined that security forces had employed brutal force, striking protesters with clubs and charging them with horses. Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra was criticized for preventing police commanders from testifying at committee hearings. The committee also found contradictions between the testimonies of the Army Chief of Staff and the Internal Security Minister.
Today, none of the coalition parties wants to position itself behind a similar evacuation effort, a move which could kill their political aspirations among their rightwing voters. Likud, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu officials have stated recently that this government will not permit the destruction of Amona. When the brutal evacuation took place in 2006, it was carried out by the same government that had evacuated Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip in 2005, yet another traumatic event in recent Israeli history. That government was ruled by the Kadima party, a political albatross invented by soon-to-go-comatose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which has since disappeared from the political map, and serves as a warning to all Israeli rightwing parties wishing to err leftward.
With that in mind, it can be expected that Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Liberman and Justice Minister Shaked come up with a solution that keeps the Jewish settlers in place, risking the ire of the high court, as well as of Israel’s many friends in the free world. It should provide for great political theater, as these three politicians will show their ability to both capitulate and gravel while proudly standing erect. It’s time to call in the chiropractors.
Israeli officials were outraged after learning that an employee of the Christian humanitarian aid organization World Vision was indicted for funneling money and resources to the terrorist organization Hamas.
“Israel has today confirmed what it has known for a long time, which is that Hamas is sustained with funds from ‘human rights organizations,’” said Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud). “Instead of improving the situation in the Gaza Strip and rehabilitating it, Hamas uses the money intended for children and the needy instead for the benefit of manufacturing rockets and tunnels.”
The southern district of the State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on Wednesday against Mohammed El-Halabi, World Vision’s senior branch manager in Gaza. El-Halabi was arrested at the Erez crossing on June 15 as he was attempting to return to Gaza.
The indictment against El-Halabi charges him with committing a number of offenses related to direct and indirect support of and involvement in terrorism on behalf of the Hamas terror organization.
El-Halabi, who confessed under questioning to having been an active Hamas member since his youth, said that Hamas chose to dispatch him in 2005 to infiltrate World Vision in light of his prior work for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Gaza. While employed with UNDP, El-Halabi helped collect intelligence for Hamas by stationing “farmers” near the border with Israel who were actually operating as lookouts for the terror organization.
El-Halabi worked his way up the hierarchical ladder in the Gaza branch of World Vision until he eventually became its director, allowing him to have full control over the branch’s budget and aid packages.
The indictment states that after becoming director, El-Halabi helped transfer money and logistical supplies to Hamas through a number of fraudulent schemes, including fictitious humanitarian projects, false registration of Hamas activists as World Vision employees, and the reporting of fraudulent budget figures. Supplies included iron rods, pipes, and building materials, which were used for the construction of Hamas military outposts and terror tunnels.
El-Halabi admitted that the humanitarian aid was received almost exclusively by Hamas terrorists and their families. El-Halabi distributed thousands of food packages and medical supplies to Hamas terrorists every month, including during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Additionally, El-Halabi confirmed that the money which was transferred to Hamas was primarily intended to strengthen the terror organization’s military capacity through the purchase of weapons and the financing of the construction of Hamas’s underground terror tunnel network.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hotovely stressed that the activities of human rights organizations operating in Gaza must be monitored.
“It is important to tighten the investigations into contributions to human rights organizations and to be especially concerned that money is used for the purposes for which it was donated,” added Deputy Minister Hotovely.
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman MK Avi Dichter expressed the need to be aware of how other international aid organizations are distributing their donations as well.
“Reasonable international bodies operating in Gaza are used as sources of money for the financing of Hamas terrorism in Gaza, and the difference with World Vision is just that the other bodies have not yet been exposed as such,” said Dichter.
“The naivete that characterizes the humanitarian organizations with good intentions is what enables Hamas terrorists to endorse the support for terrorist infrastructure,” the committee chairman added.
World Vision adamantly denied the allegations against El-Halabi in the indictment and claimed that the organization continuously made certain that all its humanitarian aid was not misappropriated.
“Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true,” World Vision said in a statement. “We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence.”
On Wednesday, Christian Today reported that Mohammad El Halabi, an employee of World Vision (WV), the world’s largest evangelical Christian charity, had been detained on June 15 at the Erez crossing “on his way home from routine meetings” and was being held “without access to legal counsel or family visits,” which is normal fare in Israel with regards to security prisoners.
Last Friday, when El Halabi’s detention had been extended until August Tuesday, Aug. 2, WV’s eastern Jerusalem office released a statement saying, “World Vision stands by Mohammad who is a widely respected and well-regarded humanitarian, field manager and trusted colleague of over a decade. He has displayed compassionate leadership on behalf of the children and communities of Gaza through difficult and challenging times, and has always worked diligently and professionally in fulfilling his duties.”
It should be interesting to see the charity’s response to the charges submitted against El Halabi by the Southern District Prosecution in Beer Sheva District Court Thursday, describing him as Hamas activist who has been using his high position in the charity organization to systematically divert millions of dollars to the military arm of Hamas, financing, among other things, the digging of terror tunnels. The monies, according to Thursday’s indictment, was taken out of funds and resources that had been dedicated to humanitarian assistance to Gaza Strip residents. The indictment includes 12 counts of security violations of passing information to the enemy, membership in a terror organization, funding terrorism, participation in an unlawful association, and contact with foreign agents.
The facts included in the indictment describe El Halabi as having a master’s degree in engineering. A member of Hamas since 1995, in 2004 he joined the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas. In 2005 he was hired by WV to carry out administrative assignments at the charity’s Gaza branch. His job provided him with an entry permit into Israel. El Halabi exploited his visits to Israel to locate and mark [via GPS] sites near the Erez Crossing that potentially could be used as egress points for Hamas attack tunnels.
Carrying out his assignments, according to the prosecution, El Halabi usurped millions of dollars in donations that arrived from foreign countries such as the US, Australia, Germany and the UK, and were slated for humanitarian needs, agricultural, education, and psychological support.
According to El Halabi, the humanitarian aid donated for the residents of the Gaza Strip was in actual fact given almost exclusively to Hamas terrorists and their families. Non-Hamas members almost never received any benefit from the aid, despite their relative level of need. Needless to say, this is in contradiction to the accepted practice of the humanitarian aid organizations. Every month, El Halabi distributed thousands of packages of food, basic commodities and medical supplies to Hamas terrorists and their families, commodities that World Vision had intended to go to the needy.
Over his many years working for WV, El Halabi transferred to Hamas’s possession thousands of tons of iron rods, digging equipment and plastic hoses, originally intended for agricultural use but in reality utilized by the Hamas tunnel builders and for building military bases such as the “Palestine” military base which was built in 2015 entirely from British aid money. Some of the money went to pay the salaries of Hamas terrorists and, in some cases, senior Hamas terrorists took large sums of money for their own personal use. During the war of 2014, Hamas terrorists received WV food packages to sustain them above and below ground, including in terror tunnels.
El Halabi also provided plastic sheets bearing the WV emblem to cover the openings of tunnels, making them look like agricultural hothouses.
According to the indictment, around the year 2012, El Halabi was engaged by Hamas to initiate a greenhouse project, to use greenhouses to hide the sites where terror tunnels were being dug. In addition, a project for the rehabilitation of (fictitious) fishermen was actually used to provide motor boats and diving suits for Hamas’s military marine unit.
The Shabak investigation revealed that the main method El Halabi used to divert money to Hamas was to put out fictitious tenders for WV-sponsored projects in the Gaza Strip. The “winning” company was simply informed that 60% of the project’s funds were to be designated for Hamas.
El Halabi told his interrogators that a regular method of acquiring equipment for Hamas was to disguise Hamas warehouses as WV warehouses. Trucks bringing supplies to the Kerem Shalom Crossing between Israel and Gaza would then unload their goods at Hamas warehouses instead of legitimate WV warehouses. Hamas operatives would pick up the supplies in the dead of night.
According to Shabak, the El Halabi investigation revealed much information concerning additional figures in the Gaza Strip who exploited their work for humanitarian aid organizations and UN institutions, on behalf of Hamas. El Halabi’s statements portray a troubling picture in which UN institutions in Gaza are in fact controlled by Hamas.
How the Money Was Transferred to Hamas
Some of the money raised to support injured children in Gaza was diverted to the families of Hamas terrorists, by fraudulently listing their children as wounded.
Money designated for psychological support, education and health in Gaza ($2 million/year) was used to pay the families of Hamas terrorists.
Part of the WV donations was transferred in cash and recorded fraudulently as aid to needy children.
Monies were paid out as salaries to Hamas terrorists and activists, who were registered as employees of the aid organization when in fact they never worked for WV.
Costs for legitimate infrastructure projects were inflated, with the difference going to Hamas.
Straw companies — two farmers’ associations and a fake charity for the benefit of the injured — were established with false registers to launder money.
Unemployment payments were diverted to Hamas terrorists. El Halabi arranged for one-third of the allowances WV transfers to Gaza for the unemployed to go to members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. The terrorists received a larger allowance ($392 instead of $300).
Using lists of fictitious beneficiaries, $2 million a year were designated as aid for farmers and diverted to Hamas activists. El Halabi reported a larger sum than what was actually transferred to the farmers to World Vision. The difference was diverted to Hamas.
Project costs were inflated. For example, WV invested in the construction of 500 greenhouses and the preparation of land (495 acres) for agriculture. El Halabi reported to the charity that the cost was $1,000 per quarter acre, while the real cost was $700. The difference – $300 per quarter acre – was transferred to Hamas.
In their 2014 report titled “Filling in the Blanks — Documenting Missing Dimensions in UN and NGO Investigations of the Gaza Conflict,” NGO Monitor and UN Watch have cautioned: “The willingness of World Vision workers to openly discuss these issues is exceptional; however, the answers leave little doubt as to World Vision’s willingness to negotiate and coordinate with armed groups. This raises questions as to whether the group would prevent components of its aid from being misappropriated by terrorist organizations, if it felt that taking a stand would jeopardize the organization’s ability to continue its operations in a given area.”
Brigadier General Avi Benayahu, formerly the IDF Spokesperson, on Saturday shared with the Yediot Aharonot weekend supplement that Israel’s official radio channel, Kol Israel, was instructed to block access to MKs wishing to speak against the uprooting of some 8,000 Jews from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
“During the disengagement (the laundered, government issue term for the mass deporatations), all the rebel MKs, those who objected to the move did not receive access to Kol Israel,” by decree from above, Benayahu recalled. “I allowed them, of course, to be interviewed on Army Radio, and was receiving messages from [Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon that I was providing a platform for the extreme right, the marginal voices.”
“Back then we understood that to be our role,” the former IDF Spokesperson said, reminding many readers that the left-leaning military station used to be a small l liberal outfit.
According to the Israeli media monitoring NGO Keshev (Listening), the Israeli media systematically overstated “the threat posed by those opposed to disengagement and emphasized extreme scenarios.” Keshev’s report states that “throughout the weeks before the disengagement, and during the evacuation itself, the Israeli media repeatedly warned of potential violent confrontation between settlers and security forces. These scenarios, which never materialized, took over the headlines.”
Keshev’s report suggests the Israeli print and TV media “relegated to back pages and buried deep in the newscasts, often under misleading headlines” items that “mitigated the extreme forecasts.” Editors delivered “one dominant, ominous message:,” such as Channel 1’s Aug. 14, 2005 story: “Police Declare High Alert Starting Tomorrow, Close to a State of War.”
“The discrepancy between the relatively calm reality emerging from most stories and the overall picture reflected in the headlines is evident in every aspect of the disengagement story: in the suppression of information about the voluntary collection of weapons held by the settlers in the Gaza Strip; in reporting exaggerated numbers of right-wing protesters who infiltrated the Strip before the evacuation; in misrepresentation of the purpose of settler protest (which was an exercise in public relations, not a true attempt to thwart the disengagement plan); and in playing down coordinated efforts between the Israeli security forces and the settlers,” Keshev reports.
According to Keshev, the price for this misrepresentation was paid, at least in part, by the settlers, whose public image was radicalized unjustifiably. After the disengagement was completed without violence between Israelis and a sense of unity and pride pervaded society, “the media chose to give Israeli society, and especially its security forces, a pat on the back.”
Two years after Operation Protective Edge, in which 66 IDF soldiers and five civilians were killed, the bereaved families of the fallen are demanding an independent committee to examine the preparations for the war, the way it was conducted, and the lessons to be learned.
The 32 families on Sunday demanded in a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Liberman that a state commission headed by a judge investigate the government’s decision-making process throughout the war.
In their letter, the families mentioned the fact that the Knesset Foreign and Security Committee had been asked to examine the events of the 2014 war and has yet to issue a report. One report that had been produced by the committee was shelved because of the 2015 elections. Referring to the same committee’s publicized intent to renew its investigation, the families argued it made no sense to “reconvene a committee that has already investigated the events and opted not to publish its conclusions.”
“Even if the decision to shelve the conclusions was made by a different person than the current committee head, it would be inappropriate to renew the discussion after such a long period of time, and it could appear as a lack of transparency or exterior pressures which do not belong in an investigation of this scope,” the families wrote.
On the evening of June 12, 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and later murdered in Judea and Samaria by Hamas operatives. Their bodies were discovered on June 30. Israel retaliated with air strikes on Gaza in which 3 Arabs were killed and a dozen injured. Hamas retaliated with rockets that were fired at Israeli civilian centers wounding three people. On July 7, 80 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, and the Netanyahu security cabinet decided to launch a counter-terrorist operation. The IDF bombarded targets in the Gaza Strip with artillery and airstrikes, and Hamas continued to fire rockets and mortar shells into Israel. A cease-fire proposal was announced by the Egyptian government and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on July 14, and the Israeli government accepted it and stopped the attacks on the morning of July 15. But Hamas rejected the ceasefire and the war was renewed. By July 16 the death toll in Gaza had reached 200.
On July 16, Hamas and Islamic Jihad offered a 10-year truce with ten conditions, including lifting of the Gaza blockade and the release of prisoners who were re-arrested after being released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Israel refused those terms. On July 17, a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire, proposed by the UN, took place. But a few hours before the ceasefire was to start, 13 armed Hamas terrorists emerging from a tunnel on the Israeli side of the Gaza border. The IDF destroyed the tunnel’s exit, ending the incursion.
After the ceasefire, the IDF launched a ground offensive on the Gaza Strip, aimed at destroying the terror tunnels crossing under the Israeli border. On July 20, the IDF entered Shuja’iyya in Gaza City and encountered heavy resistance. Thirteen IDF soldiers were killed, including two Americans serving in Israel. Seven of the IDF soldiers were killed as their armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank rocket or an improvised explosive device, and three were killed in clashes with terrorists. Three IDF soldiers were trapped in a burning house. In the next 24 hours, three more IDF soldiers were killed in Shuja’iyya.
Shortly after the battle, twenty civilians from Shuja’iyya were shot for protesting against Hamas. Hamas said it had executed Israeli spies.
On August 3, the IDF pulled most of its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip after completing the destruction of 32 terror tunnels. On August 5 Israel announced that it had arrested Hossam Kawasmeh, suspected of having organized the killing of the three teenagers. According to court documents, Kawasmeh stated that Hamas members in Gaza financed the recruitment and arming of the killers.
January 25, 2006 was the last time Gazans voted for their ruling government, and the Hamas movement won it, with Ismail Haniyeh nominated for Prime Minister. Hamas then established a national unity government with the PLO, which collapsed shortly thereafter when Hamas violently removed the PLO from the Strip. Things remained the same for a decade, through three violent confrontations with Israel, until, last week, Hamas surprised everyone by declaring free municipal elections in the Gaza Strip, to coincide with the next round of municipal elections in the PA, scheduled for October 8.
Hamas says it is planning to run a national slate made up of technocrats (who just happen to all be Hamas members). Representatives of different parties in Gaza swore an oath last week, to abide by the elections rules and to respect the candidates and the deals that they make, and, most important, abide by the election results and by the decisions of the central elections committee.
The last time the Palestinian Authority held municipal elections was in 2012. Now a PA delegation has met with Haniyeh to discuss extending the municipal vote to the Gaza Strip as well.
According to Ynet, the reason Hamas may be prepared to open up the Gaza municipalities to PLO representatives is that Hamas is hoping to capitalize on its popularity in the PA, where the public has had enough of the corrupt PLO leadership. Hamas has won the student union elections in key PA universities such as Bir Zeit and the Hebron Politechnic. The Hamas leadership is convinced they have the momentum in the PA, and the municipal elections could serve as their trial balloon. Their aim, is, of course, for the PA to be forced to declare national elections, where the chances would be high that a Hamas candidate, most likely Ismail Haniyeh, would win the Chairmanship.
Voter registration opened on Saturday, including registration online. Eligible voters will have five days to join the reported 2 million voters who have already registered, constituting, according to the Palestinian Authority Central Elections Commission, 78.5% of the eligible voters in Judea and Samaria (including eastern Jerusalem) and in Gaza.
In 2006, there were 1,341,671 registered voters and 1,042,424 votes cast, according the Palestinian Authority Central Elections Commission.
In 2013, voter registration the Palestinian Authority suddenly jumped by 300,000 voters in the span of around 6 months. That massive influx of newly registered voters primarily originated from Gaza.
For comparison’s sake, in Israel’s 2015 elections, there were 5,881,696 registered Israeli voters and 4,254,738 votes case.
While back in 2006, Israel had 5,014,622 registered voters.