Twenty minutes passed from the moment Avera Mengistu, an Israeli who crossed the border into Gaza in 2014 and is considered to be held there by Hamas to this day, was first caught by army security cameras until he managed to cross the perimeter fence at Zikim Beach, according to a report Wednesday night by the investigative television program “Uvda.”
The testimony of a Givati Brigade soldier who was at the scene, publicized for the first time on the program, sheds light on the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces during this period of time. The soldier said that for 10 minutes his commanders forbade the force, which was in the area on a different mission, to approach Mengistu. He also claimed that the video given to the family and aired for the first time on the program was heavily edited.
In the video of the border crossing on September 7, 2014, that was given to the family only a few months ago, one can see that Mengistu, an Ashkelon resident with mental health issues, appears in the IDF observation cameras at 1:32 p.m., when he is two kilometers from the border fence, walking with a backpack on his back and holding a stick.
The testimony by soldier Eran Shimoni reveals a significant delay in the decision-making process during the incident. According to his report, he and two other soldiers, one of them a junior officer, were at the Erez checkpoint at the start of the incident because they had been assigned to secure the forces working on the border fence. When Mengistu was spotted, Shimoni relates, he asked his platoon commander several times to allow him to proceed in Mengistu's direction, but the officer sought permission from more senior officers in the sector, who forbade him to leave the checkpoint.
“They always tell us that the response time in this sector [the Gaza area] has to be the fastest in the world in every incident,” said Shimoni. “What was this aggressiveness in telling us, ‘No, don’t go there.’ And the lookouts [knew] this wasn’t an innocent event, the observation posts were alerting very loudly as if there was something going on there, and we weren’t moving.”
Permission to go into the field only came 10 minutes afterward, at 1:42 p.m., “And then we simply flew there,” Shimoni said. Seven minutes passed until the force got from the Erez checkpoint to Zikim Beach; throughoutt his time Mengistu, was walking toward the border.
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“My platoon commander tried to get on the radio, there was a mess on the radio, people were starting to understand the scale of the event, and when such events happen then generally the radio isn’t relevant anymore, you have to use your head. I remember him trying to phone the company commander but it didn’t work.” During the interview Shimoni said he shot in the air to try to alert Mengistu and then shot several times toward his legs, but it didn’t stop him. He crossed the border at 1:52 p.m.
Shimoni said the version of the video given to the family had parts cut out. “That’s clear,” he said. “It was cut. There’s time missing in the video, our progress is missing, our unloading, our laying down, seeing Avera, there are things missing. Our job was to stop him, unequivocally. It embarrasses me that something like this happened.”