Israeli Army Gives Family of Man Missing in Gaza Tape of His Crossing After Months of Pleas

The decision to provide the material to Abera Mengistu's family was delayed by five months, party due to the security implications, the army says

Avera Mengistu's family demonstrating for his release from Gaza outside the Prime Minister's Office, June, 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

The Israel Defense Forces has provided the family of Abera Mengistu, an Israeli citizen who crossed the border into Gaza in September 2014 and has not been heard from since, a video of him crossing the fence. 

It is assumed that Mengistu is being held by Hamas. 

The footage was given to Mengistu’s family on Saturday, following IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s approval of the family’s exceptional appeal to obtain the tape. 

The request was granted five months after the family, which was shown the video once before, filed a request to be given the tape. The military says the approval process was complicated, partly due to the security implications, which the IDF declined to explain in detail. 

Avera’s mother, Agurnesh Mengistu, said her son has mental health issues and that she worries about his life every day.

Handing over the tape of Mengistu’s crossing does not relieve the government of its responsibility to act to bring him back to Israel, his mother said.

Mengistu, 28, is an Israeli citizen of Ethiopian descent. He lived in Ashkelon with his mother, and is one of seven brothers and sisters. Mengistu was known to local welfare authorities as suffering from psychological issues and it is possible he is also mentally challenged. He may have been drinking on the day of his disappearance and this might not have been the first time that he tried to enter Gaza.

On the morning of September 7, 2014, days after Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire to end the 50-day war which saw Mengistu's hometown pummeled with rockets, he made the short walk to Zikim Beach and approached the border fence between Israel and Gaza at the northeast end of the Gaza Strip. He then scaled the fence and crossed into the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Military observation cameras captured his climbing over the border fence. Soldiers on lookout saw him approach the fence carrying a bag, which aroused suspicion that he was a Palestinian trying to return to the Gaza Strip, and soldiers stationed in the area were rushed to the scene – but they were too late. Only when they opened the bag that Mengistu left behind and found a Hebrew bible did they understand he was an Israeli.    

Three months after Mengistu entered Gaza, the commander of the Gaza Division at the time, Brig. Gen. Guy Virob, presented the family with the results of the division’s inquiry and showed them the video of his crossing. 

Mengistu’s family has been waging a struggle to free him, emphasizing it is a humanitarian – and not a military – case because he has mental health problems, which, according to them, led him to cross the border into Gaza in the first place.