Family of Israeli Held by Hamas Bypasses Government Mediator and Communicates Directly With Son

The family of an Ethiopian-Israeli with a mental disability sends son held in Gaza emotional video message pleading for his release despite warnings from government about consequences of direct communication

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks to journalists after visiting the family home of of Ethiopian-Israeli Avraham Mengistu in Ashkelon, Israel, July 10, 2015.
Tsafrir Abayov/AP Photo

Sources in Gaza’s healthcare system said Abera Mengistu, the Israeli citizen being held by Hamas, had received a video clip from his mother and brother in 2016.

The clip, in which Mengistu’s mother Agernesh and brother Ilan ask for Abera’s release, had been given to a delegation of the Physicians for Human Rights organization, (PHR) which was later informed by sources that it had been in turn handed to the captive. 

>>Israel to partially reopen Gaza's only commercial crossing

In late 2016, Mengistu’s family had asked the organization to give the footage and some medical documents to Hamas, documenting Mengistu’s shaky mental condition.

PHR’s contacts, leaders in the Gazan healthcare system, confirmed that the clip and documents had reached the people holding Mengistu captive in Gaza and to Mengistu himself. But the organization had no other confirmation that Mengistu saw the video.

In the clip, Mengistu’s mother asks how Hamas can be so heartless and notes that her son Abera had entered Gaza unwittingly, being sick. “Why doesn’t Hamas let him go? I have been crying day and night for two years. I want to see him. If necessarily I will come to him. Show me my son,” she says.

Mengistu's family members and supporters protest in Ashkelon on April 12, 2017
Ilan Assayag

His brother is filmed saying that the family has been in pain and heartbroken for more than two years.

“Everyday I see my mother crying and saying, where is my son Abera, who I brought up with devotion and tremendous difficulties in Ethiopia and here in Israel, too. She asks me everyday, ‘why is he being held? What do they have to do with him? He isn’t a soldier, he didn’t go to hurt anybody, he’s the child of poor, unfortunate people.  I have a heart, too. I am a mother, too. Why aren’t they letting him go?’ And I have no answer for her.”

Physicians for Human Rights has been acting behind the scenes for two years with the medical establishment and authorities in Gaza seeking information about Mengistu and about Hisham Sayed, a Bedouin Israeli who disappeared since entering Gaza in 2015. The organization hopes to arrange for a doctor’s visit to both, but have not received any information whatsoever on their condition. The group has received no further information than that materials sent by Mengistu’s family reached their destination. 

The organization has also advised Israeli security that the tape and documents were transferred. The nonprofit organization’s medical delegations are one of the few frameworks in which Israeli citizens can enter Gaza– as doctors to treat Palestinians or to train local doctors. 

The video handover is not the only instance in which the Mengistus have bypassed Israeli officialdom, or the government coordinator on the case, Yaron Blum, a former Shin Bet officer who replaced Lior Lotan in the position in October.

In the past family members went to the United Nations in New York, escorted by Israeli ambassador Danny Danon, and have held talks with contacts in the United States.

A source in the know told Haaretz that the family made contact with Physicians for Human Rights at a time their relations with Lotan had hit an obstacle. A video had been published of a conversation Lotan had with the Mengistu family in which he demanded they not take notes on their conversations. Lotan had told them that “loading” the story of Israel’s Ethiopian community onto the case was liable to add a year to the time the captive could be held in Gaza.

PHR’s president, Prof. Rafi Walden, said that is our human and moral duty to obtain the release of Israelis held in Gaza, whose condition is unknown. He said the organization had been acting quietly with its contacts in the Gaza medical system to assure that Mengistu be visited by an independent doctor. Walden called on Hamas to end the nightmare for Abera, Hisham and their families.