Last week, the family week marched alone at Zikim beach, near where Mengistu crossed into Gaza on September 7, 2014.
“We see that two years have passed, and my brother Abera is still imprisoned, and we see that they are not taking action to return him home,” Mengistu’s brother, Ilan, told supporters at the demonstration. “There’s no justifying his imprisonment, and we are going to fight in order to bring him home.
Gershon and the Mengistu were joined by dozens of other demonstrators, and gathered to mark the fact that two years have passed since Mengistu first went into Gaza.
Ilan Mengistu, Avera’s brother, said,“We see that two years have passed, and my brother Abera is still imprisoned, and we see that they are not taking action to return him home”. Ilan told Gershon and supporters at the demonstration. “There’s no justifying his imprisonment, and we are going to fight in order to bring him home. “Nothing has been done. We came here today to say, ‘enough.’ There are some things we can do. We need to immediately equalize the conditions of Hamas prisoners to Avera’s detainment conditions, and press the organization in order to receive a signal of life.”
In 2014 Hamas claimed that they interrogated him and he was then released. In 2015, Hamas sources told Gershon Baskin that they did not keep track of Mengistu and they believe he went to Sinai via a tunnel and have no knowledge of his whereabouts. In 2016, Hamas demanded the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners who were released as part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange and subsequently rearrested, as the “entry fee” to start negotiating for the release of Mengistu and for the separation of his negotiation from other issues.
On September 7, 2014, Mengistu walked on the beach in the Zikim area and arrived at the security fence between Israel and the Gaza strip. Upon touching he set an alarm with the IDF Gaza Division’s northern brigade which sent a patrol unit and directed a camera at him. Mengistu managed to cross the fence before the patrol arrival. The soldiers fired in the air as a warning sign, and called on Mengistu to return to Israel, but he ignored them and kept moving away until he joined a group of Gazan fishermen. He hasn’t been seen by any Israeli since then.
Hamas has admitted that it holds Mengistu, as well as a Bedouin-Israeli man who also is said to be mentally ill, who crossed into Gaza. Hamas also holds the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, both killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Mengistu immigrated with his family to Israel in 1991 when he was five years old.
The family also has appealed to the international community to intervene with Hamas in Gaza.
Israel has contacted the Red Cross and officials in the Gaza Strip, demanding Mengistu return to Israeli territory.
Initially, a Hamas official said Mengistu was interrogated and seemed to have “psychological” problems, he then refused to return to Israel and then left to Egypt, hoping to get back to Ethiopia. Israeli officials said there is “credible intelligence” that Hamas holds Mengistu “against his will”.Later, Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that Mengistu wore uniforms, was mentally healthy and his case came up in negotiations for truce during Protective Edge operation, weeks before the date Israel claims Mengistu crossed.
A blanket gag order of the incident was placed on the affair which lasted 10 months, until July 9, 2015, but lively discussions took place on forums on Israeli-Ethiopians on social media and some reports on websites abroad.Some clues about the affair were leaked in Different Arabic media outlets from which it made its way to international media and were quoted by the blogger Richard Silverstein. Finally, the gag order was lifted following a request from Haaretz newspaper. The NYTimes speculated an announcement made by Khaled Mashaal the previous day that Israel had asked to release “two soldiers and two bodies” may have “forced Israel’s hand”.
Amir Rapaport of Makor Rishon writes “The main reason for the low profile in which the incident was dealt with was the fear that public announcement will make it difficult for Hamas to return Mengistu to Israel, since a massive [Palestinian] public pressure will be applied to Hamas to not return him without an extensive deal of prisoners swap”.Some critics claimed the Mengistu family was treated badly because they were Ethiopians. Mengistu’s brother, Yalo, said that had Avera been a white person, the affair would have been handled differently and said “It’s more than racism – I call it ‘anti-Blackism'”. One of Hamas Twitter account post “Obviously, the real Israeli motto is ‘leave no Ashkenazi man behind”.
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