Netanyahu Representative Threatens Family of Israeli Missing in Gaza

PM's coordinator for hostages and missing persons told family of Avera Mengistu, missing in Gaza for 10 months, that if they criticize government they 'will leave him another year in Gaza.'

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The Mengistu family.
The Mengistu family. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Shirly Seidler

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coordinator for hostages and missing persons, Lior Lotan, met Wednesday with the family of Avera Mengistu, who is missing in the Gaza Strip, and threatened them not to criticize the way the government is handling the affair, Channel 10 News reported Thursday night.

In a recording of the meeting released by Channel 10 News, Lotan, hinting at the recent protests by Ethiopian Israelis charging that they are discriminated against, said: “Anyone who connects Avera to the story between the Ethiopian community and the State of Israel, will leave him another year in Gaza."

After a gag order was lifted on Thursday, it was revealed that Mengistu, a 28-year-old of Ethiopian descent, had climbed over the security fence into the Strip at an Ashkelon beach last September. He was reportedly detained and questioned by Hamas last year, and then released. Another man also missing in Gaza, an Israeli Bedouin from the Negev who crossed at the Erez crossing in April, was apparently taken into Hamas custody and is still being held.

During the meeting, a family representative spoke with Netanyahu on the phone, asking the prime minister why he was 'ignoring' the issue of their missing relative, despite the fact that many letters had been sent to him regarding the missing Israeli over the past eight months. Netanyahu replied that he was involved in every detail of the case, and said that advertising the case may hamper the negotiations over Mengistu's  release. Netanyahu called on the family not to lose hope, and the representative thanked the prime minister.

During the meeting. Lotan warned Mengistu's family not to record the conversation. “We... I don’t like this thing, my meetings aren’t written down. I, Yalo [Mengistu’s brother], Idon’t interrupt me please, I am older than you, let me finish and let there be a pleasant atmosphere here. If you are going to take notesdecide what you want – to work together or show off and make mischief and when you decide, I’ll accept anything with respect.”

Responding to the family’s claims against Prime Minister Netanyahu that he did not respond to their letters, Lotan said: “You have two possibilities: one is to point a finger at Hamas and say: ‘You are holding Avera, you are responsible for his fate, give him back to us and we want to know he is alive.’ That is one possibility. You have another possibility, to point a finger at Jerusalem instead of Hamas and say: ‘You are no good, you let him cross over, you didn’t answer our letters.’ You choose. I have an opinion on this – what will help Israel, what will help Avera and what will help Hamas. But you choose and you will be responsible for the outcome.”

The recording of the meeting (Hebrew):

Lotan continued his threats by saying: “I’ll say this as tough as possible; Anyone who connects Avera to the story between the Ethiopian community and the State of Israel, will leave him another year in Gaza.  Anyone who puts his story on Avera, his anger, his frustration, his difficulties – will leave Avera another year in Gaza.”

Lotan told the family later in the conversation: “If we aren’t together we will make mistakes and Hamas will translate them into another year or another price.”

The father of the family, Hailu Mengistu, said to Lotan: “The State of Israel, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, he will go to Hamas, to the government of Hamas.” One of his sons then clarified: “He [Hailu Mengistu] is asking whether there will be direct negotiations with Hamas. That’s what he’s asking.”

Lotan answered: “I can’t decide whether to respond because what happened here with the prime minister is very serious. So serious that I can’t even describe it and so the only thing that the prime minister hears is that they don’t return his letters [that the family sent]? I don’t know if I want to answer you, go to whomever you want.” One of the brothers then responded, “Hey, we’re grown up, we stopped nursing a long time ago”

Lotan defended Netanyahu: “The prime minister is a human being too, what do you think, that he’ll take a blow, and another blow and another blow, and that is the most important thing in the world to him?”

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