Israeli Missing in Gaza Is an Opportunity for Hamas to Surprise Us

The Mengistu case is an opportunity for Hamas to appeal to common sense and interfere with the established prejudices of the Israeli people.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Avera Mengistu
Avera MengistuCredit: Courtesy of the Mengistu family
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Hamas, which has proven that it knows and likes to prepare surprises for Israel, especially of the military and propaganda kind, has a new opportunity to surprise us. It can exhibit special generosity regarding the missing young man Avera Mengistu. Hamas can differentiate between its positions and its demands of the Israeli government and its attitude toward the young man’s tormented family.

For a start, and as an expression of solidarity with another depressed community, it can provide details about the location and health of the Mengistu’s son – in the great hope that Avera is alive. Generosity can also be a tool in the battle against the occupier.

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

Today we know that the treatment of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit during his captivity was decent. It’s true that Hamas regarded the captive soldier as its treasure, and therefore made sure to put in him in the hands of self-restrained people, who did not harass him personally and did not take out their anger on him for everything Israel has done to their people. We must hope that if Mengistu is alive, he is receiving similar treatment, with consideration for his special difficulties. Hamas can spare the family another long period of emotional torture and share some information with it.

The Palestinians more than anyone are familiar with the cruel side of Israelis and of the regime they established. Hamas is a ruling party that greatly enjoys ruling, but it is also composed of human beings who have experienced all the types of Israeli cruelty since 1948. It is very tempting to respond in the same coin. But a reaction in kind does not teach the Israelis a thing about their own cruelty, and has already proven that it does not reduce this cruelty or change Israeli policy. Hamas can try a different, contrary method.

Hamas has proven more than once that it is interested in what is happening in Israeli society and is familiar with it. Here is an opportunity to develop that familiarity and to translate it into on-the-ground activity. The Ethiopian Jews are a group that is discriminated against by the state that brought them here to strengthen the religious-mythical legitimacy of its existence with an iota of humanitarianism. The prevailing assumption is that, had he not been black, the Israeli authorities would have acted with greater determination to effect Mengistu’s release. Whether or not that is true, Hamas can use that assumption in order to show consideration for the difficult and clearly non-privileged situation of the Mengistu family.

Family and friends of Avera Mengistu protesting outside Hadarim Prison on Monday.Credit: Moti Milrod

Hamas can make use of the fact that in Israel attention is paid to claims of racism within Jewish society against non-hegemonic Jewish groups. It can adopt affirmative action to strengthen the Mengistu family with the information it possesses. In that way, they can also prevent a situation in which the Ethiopian community treats the Palestinian prisoners and their parents as its enemies – as did the strong lobby for releasing Shalit. If they receive more precise information, the Ethiopian community, the family of the missing young man and their supporters will be able to come to the government with clearer demands.

Hamas has demonstrated more than once that it is interested in what people in Israel think and say. Government representatives have declared that, as opposed to the bodies of the two soldiers in Hamas hands, Israel will not allow the living Israeli citizens (Mengistu and another young Bedouin whose name is under a gag order) to serve as a bargaining chip for a new prisoner exchange deal. Here is an opportunity for Hamas to interfere with the established prejudices of the Israeli public. It can appeal to common sense and force Israelis to ask how it is that their government is willing to conduct negotiations for the return of bodies and not for living human beings who are not soldiers.

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