Family of Ethiopian-Israeli Believed to Be Missing in Gaza Turns to International Community for Help

Avera Mengistu wandered into Gaza in 2014 and has not been seen since. Israel's Defense Ministry believes he was held by Hamas.

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Avera Mengistu's family, July 9, 2015.
Avera Mengistu's family, July 9, 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The family of a mentally ill Ethiopian-Israeli man believed to be imprisoned in Gaza is appealing to the international community to help bring him home.

Relatives of Avera Mengistu, who wandered into Gaza in 2014 and has not been seen since, were in Geneva Monday to meet with diplomats and appeal for international help, Agence France Press reported. Geneva is where the United Nations’ European headquarters is located.

“We are kept in the dark,” Mengistu’s brother Gashao, 30, told AFP, accompanied by his father, Ayaline, and mother, Agurnesh.

Avera Mengistu was 29 when he disappeared and was suffering from severe depression. Israel’s Defense Ministry believes that Mengistu was held by Hamas after illegally crossing the border, but the Islamist movement governing Gaza has provided no information about his whereabouts or condition, according to AFP.

Gashao Mengistu said the family believes “the international community has influence over Hamas” and may be able to pressure it to “do the right thing.”

“They can help this go beyond politics. It is a human rights and a humanitarian issue,” he said.

“When Hamas is asking for humanitarian assistance, and contributions to the people in Gaza, then the international community should tell them: Don’t expect us to assist you when you are violating the same rights of the other side.

“We are talking about an innocent civilian. He’s not a soldier. He was never a soldier.”

Avraham Mengistu, who was hospitalized several times for psychiatric problems, was exempted from Israeli military service.

The family rejected reports that it had previously faulted the Israeli military for not doing enough to find Avraham and said the army treated the case differently than it would for a white man.

Gashao said, “The government is doing what it can.”

The case was not widely reported in the media until August, when the family rallied on his behalf outside the Hadarim Detention Center, where relatives of Palestinian prisoners were visiting. His disappearance was not made public until July, when a court-imposed gag order was lifted.

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