Six Years After Avera Mengistu Entered Gaza, Return Seems Unlikelier Than Ever

Mengistu's story never swept along thousands of people, and his brother says family doesn't have financial resources to dedicate themselves to protest

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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Avera Mengistu
Avera MengistuCredit: Courtesy of the Mengistu family
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

Six years have passed since Avera Mengistu crossed the border fence into the Gaza Strip, and it appears his return to Israel never seemed more remote.

The hints of protest that appeared in the first years of his captivity have subsided, with hardly any public activity on his behalf.

His family is finding it difficult to bring his case to public attention. “I’m sure his case is not on the government’s list of priorities” says Avera’s brother Ilan Mengistu.

In recent years, Mengistu’s family used to hold an event to note the anniversary of his crossing the border, but this year they gave up. Due to the coronavirus it was decided not to hold the event. Instead, they’ve arranged for performing artists Shlomi Shabat and Eden Alene to launch a new song to mark the day. An activist on Mengistu’s behalf notes that “these days, with the coronavirus, it’s hard to get people out of their houses.”

The Mengistu family protest never swept along thousands of people. Demonstrations, held at different locations across the country, were attended by only dozens of people, with a strong preponderance of them from the Ethiopian community. WhatsApp groups, set up for organizing the struggle, are barely active, and there has been no discussion of protest activities for a long time.

Family and friends of Avera Mengistu protesting outside Hadarim Prison in 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

“Undoubtedly, waging a daily campaign for six years, trying to keep this issue on the public agenda, is very difficult. There have been ups and downs, but under the surface there is much activity, including meetings with lawmakers and international figures who come here and meet us. It’s true that this is not evident and doesn’t make the news, and clearly much more work is required,” says Ilan.

He says the family’s socioeconomic status is the main reason the campaign for returning Avera is not gaining momentum. “You must realize it’s not easy for his parents and family. We have our own families to raise, so that we navigate between our private lives and the campaign. We don’t have the financial means to devote all our time to the campaign.” The phone interview is conducted on Ilan’s break from his job at Tnuva.

Ilan says the family’s situation is not good. He speaks of crises, despair and frustration. It’s important for him to emphasize that the link with the government and the person in charge of captives and missing persons, Yaron Blum, is a good one, but immediately notes that it’s a fruitless connection.

“In all our meetings we’ve not received any information or news that could give us hope; we feel that everything is stuck, with no serious progress. We’re really frustrated.”

“I’m sure that if the government took this tragic humanitarian case seriously, they could exert more international pressure on human rights organizations, especially since the state is in touch with the UN emissary who goes to Gaza and delivers aid. I never saw them demanding Avera’s rights; that shows that they’re not taking this issue seriously” he adds.

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