Relatives and friends of Avera Mengistu, the 28-year-old resident of Ashkelon whose whereabouts have been unknown since he crossed into the Gaza Strip last September, demonstrated for his return on Monday in an effort to heighten awareness over his case.
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The two dozen or so people who gathered in front of Hadarim Prison in the Sharon region claim that Mengistu, who is of Ethiopian background, is being held by Hamas.
“For a year, we said we would take the silent and confidential route, but now we have decided to put an end to that,” said Mengistu’s brother Ilan.
The case had been under a court gag order until a month ago.
The family had tried over the past year to transmit a message to Hamas via the Israeli government to explain that Avera is mentally ill and that holding him is inhumane, the brother added.
“But that fell on deaf ears," Ilan Mengistu said, adding, "Just this year, the State of Israel returned 70 Gazans to Gaza who had crossed the border. Why aren’t they returning him?”
The protest in front of the prison, Mengistu said, was timed to coincide with the hours during which relatives of Palestinian prisoners are permitted to visit the facility. The aim was to convey the message that it is unacceptable that Palestinian terrorists are accorded full rights, while Megistu’s family does not even know where he is.
The demonstrators distributed flyers to visiting Palestinians accusing them of cooperating with Hamas’ criminal act: “You can visit your sons today, but there is a family that not only cannot see [their son], but doesn’t know where he is,” it read.
In the course of the demonstration, one protester got on a bus carrying relatives of Palestinian security prisoners, in coordination with the police, and asked the passengers to convey the message. Members of the Mengistu family said hundreds of supporters had sought to join the protest at the prison, but the police had limited the crowd to 26 demonstrators, which relatives said detracted from its impact.
In early July, with the lifting of the gag order, it was reported that two Israelis, Mengistu and a Bedouin from the Negev community of Hura, had crossed into Gaza and had not returned. The Bedouin entered Gaza in April.
Hamas has not provided information about the condition of the two missing men and has not explicitly said whether either of them is being held by the Islamic organization.