Israel/OPT: Release prisoner of conscience Mohammed al-Halabi 

Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohammed al-Halabi, a Palestinian prisoner of conscience who is serving a 12-year prison sentence in Israel. Mohammed, a humanitarian worker from Gaza, spent six years in detention pending trial, before he was convicted in deeply flawed proceedings of diverting money to Hamas.

Mohammed al-Halabi’s appeal hearing was supposed to take place on 17 May 2023, at Israel’s High Court of Appeals. However, his defence lawyer was forced to request a postponement, because Israeli authorities refused to share essential information, such as a summary of evidence and arguments, ahead of the hearing – effectively scuppering any possibility of a fair trial.

“This is the latest contortion in the Kafkaesque nightmare which Israeli authorities have kept Mohammed al-Halabi and his family trapped for the past seven years. The Israeli authorities’ failure to share crucial pre-trial documents ahead of the hearing is part of a deliberate attempt to obstruct justice and prolong Mohammed’s ordeal,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Seven years on from Mohammed al-Halabi’s arrest, Israeli authorities have failed to present any credible evidence that would justify his imprisonment. He has been targeted for his humanitarian work, as part of Israel’s ongoing efforts to crush Palestinian civil society and independent aid organizations working in the occupied Gaza Strip. Mohammed al-Halabi is a prisoner of conscience who must be immediately and unconditionally released, and his conviction must be quashed.”

The Israeli Security Agency (Shabak) used the recent “security escalation” in Gaza as a pretext for failing to share material with Mohammed’s lawyer – even though the appeal hearing had been scheduled for months.

Catalogue of violations

Mohammed al-Halabi was the director of the Gaza office of the US-based charity World Vision until his arrest in 2016. He has dedicated his life to supporting and empowering children and people with disabilities, who are among those most affected by Israel’s illegal blockade and recurrent military offensives on the Gaza Strip.

On 15 June 2022, after spending six gruelling years in detention, Mohammed was convicted of diverting millions of dollars to the Hamas administration, which Israel considers a terrorist group, after a deeply flawed trial. On 30 August 2022 he was handed a 12-year prison sentence – six more years.

An independent investigation commissioned by World Vision, and another commissioned by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is a donor to World Vision, found no evidence of diverted funds.

Mohammed was tried in secret hearings, during which the Beersheba District Court completely disregarded abundant evidence clearing him of any wrongdoing. His conviction was largely based on the testimony of a prisoner informant who had previously been found guilty of perjury, as well as so-called “secret evidence” which neither Mohammed nor his lawyer were allowed to access.

Israeli authorities have failed to investigate Mohammed al-Halabi’s 2018 complaint of torture and other ill-treatment while under interrogation by the Shabak.

In a demonstration of personal integrity and resilience, Mohammed refused numerous plea bargain offers which would have given him a commuted sentence in exchange for “confessing” to charges which he vehemently denies.

“The repeated prolonging of Mohammed’s ordeal is unconscionably cruel and unjust, especially in the wake of yet another Israeli assault on Gaza where his wife, Ola, and their five children live. Imagine being locked up for a crime you did not commit, knowing that bombs are falling around your terrified family – this is the reality of Israel’s apartheid,” said Heba Morayef.

“The catalogue of human rights violations to which Mohammad al-Halabi has been subjected demonstrates once again how Israel’s justice system helps to maintain apartheid against Palestinians.”