Two Years Later, Family of Israeli Who Disappeared in Gaza March Alone

Avera Mengistu’s relatives protest government’s inaction, and insist his case isn’t like that of other Hamas prisoners.

The father of Avraham Mengisto, an Israeli of Ethiopian decent who Israel says crossed into the Gaza Strip in 2014 and is being held by Hamas, holds an Israeli flag during a demonstration marking two years since his son was last seen in Israel, at Zikim beach near Ashkelon in southern Israel September 7, 2016. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Amir Cohen, Reuters

Two years after Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian Israeli, crossed into the Gaza Strip, his family on Wednesday held a march along the Zikim beach close to the barrier fence to protest Israel’s failure to get him back.

Mengistu, an Ashkelon resident of Ethiopian descent, is believed to have crossed the border into Gaza in September 2014, leaving from Zikim beach. He was taken by Hamas, which claims he was questioned and then released. His whereabouts have since been unknown.

“The family isn’t giving up,” said his brother Ilan Mengistu, adding that there is support in the Israeli public for getting Avera back, though some think any deal would involve a prisoner exchange. “But our case is humanitarian,” he says.

Since Avera Mengistu’s disappearance was made public, his family has been stressing that his case isn’t like that of other prisoners: His case is humanitarian. The family has tried tapping international organizations over the past year, hoping for help, but to no avail.

Avera Mengistu's family
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Family member Yonit Fenta told Haaretz that after Israel and Turkey entered their reconciliation agreement, the Mengistu family’s relationship with Lior Lotan, the prime minister’s liaison for prisoners and missing people, ended – no meetings have taken place since then. Barring new developments, the family has no interest in a meeting with Lotan, Fenta added.

Seven months before Israel and Turkey signed their cooperation agreement, Fenta says, she asked Lotan whether an agreement might be signed that failed to take Mengistu’s disappearance into account. She says Lotan said no.

Ilan Mengistu agrees that he sees no point in a meeting at this time, since nothing new has happened. “Yesterday he called me, but I like results, not meetings for the sake of meetings,” he said, adding: “In conversations, they tell us that they will wield massive pressure to obtain his release, and nothing happens.”

The PM's Office said in a statement that the liaison for prisoners and missing people is in contact with Mengistu's family, and that him and his people are working relentlessly to bring him back.