Family of Israeli Missing in Gaza Urges Hamas to Release Him

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Ilan Mengistu, the brother of the Israeli missing in Gaza, speaking at his Ashkelon home, July 9, 2015.Credit: Eyal Toueg

The family of Avera Mengistu, the Israeli who disappeared into Gaza 10 months ago, has called on Hamas to release him immediately and on the Israeli government to do everything possible to bring him home safely.

On Thursday an Israeli court lifted a gag order on Mengistu’s disappearance, following a request by Haaretz. Defense officials believe he is being held by Hamas after having climbed over the security fence.

Ilan Mengistu, one of Avera’s brothers, told reporters at his Ashkelon home that the affair was a “difficult humanitarian matter because my brother is not in good health.”

“In the name of my family, I ask the State of Israel to do everything to return my brother safely, and I ask the international community to intervene,” he said, before asking Hamas “to take my brother’s situation into account and release him immediately.”

According to Ilan Mengistu, “We decided to act with restraint and give the state time to bring my brother home. I ask the people to act with restraint, and we’ll announce our next move soon.”

Avi Yalu, a leader of the movement fighting racism against Ethiopian Israelis and a close family friend, accused the authorities of “manipulating the family so they wouldn’t discuss the incident.” He said the state’s concerns did not always match those of the family, which had no choice but to go public.

“The family only heard slivers of information the entire time. [The authorities] didn’t provide details about his state of health; information wasn't forthcoming,” Yalu said.

“As evidence, only recently did the prime minister contact the family and discuss the matter; this is bewildering. We have many questions, and it may very well be linked to the color of his skin.”

Yalu arrived at the Mengistu home wearing a T-shirt proclaiming, “Avera Mengistu?”

“We have been going around for months with this T-shirt, including at demonstrations by the Ethiopian community,” he said. “We tried to arouse awareness in the community about Avera’s story, but without great success. The shirt basically asks, why is there a gag order? Why aren’t they talking about it?”

Yalu added: “The results will determine whether the state acted properly or not. If Avera returns healthy and in one piece, we’ll know it was okay. If not, we’ll demand answers from the state, not from the family.”

President Reuven Rivlin said the authorities were doing their work faithfully.

“It’s a painful chapter that I, along with others at the President’s Residence, have followed from the beginning,” Rivlin said. “I am in contact with the Mengistu family, and I know that all those entrusted regarding it are doing their job faithfully and have been following the matter since the moment Avraham crossed the fence,” he said, using Mengistu’s Hebrew name.

Rivlin added: “It’s a matter of humanitarian interest, and we expect those holding him to act accordingly and return him in full health.”

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