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Gag order lifted on two Israelis and two bodies held in Gaza

Israel/Palestine
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For months rumors have circulated that Hamas has held two Israeli citizens and the remains of two soldiers captive in the Gaza Strip for almost a year. Following a motion filed by the Israeli daily Haaretz, a gag order concealing the cases was lifted yesterday prompting Israeli officials to addressed the matter publicly for the first time. Israel confirmed Ethiopian-Israeli Avraham Mengitsu, 28, and one other are detained in Gaza, along with the bodies of two soldier killed during the summer war.

Israeli officials said they have been aware of Mengitsu’s confinement since he first “crossed” into Gaza, on his own volition, by climbing over a fence the runs along the southern border on September 7, 2014.

A second Israeli citizen has also been held in Gaza since April, a Bedouin citizen of Israel who accessed the besieged Mediterranean strip through the northern crossing at Erez. His father told Haaretz today that his son is mentally ill and that he was unaware he had entered Gaza.

“I have no idea where my son is, nobody told me he’s in Gaza and I don’t know if he’s there or not,” said the father who explained his son was known for wandering around their village, and into the occupied Palestinian territory (both the West Bank and Gaza) where Israeli authorities undertook coordinating his return home. The man’s identity has not been disclosed and is still under gag order. 

“This is a painful situation which I, together with the relevant officials at the President’s Office, have been following closely since it began. I am in contact with the Mengistu family and I know that all the relevant authorities have been working tirelessly, and monitoring the issue closely, from the moment Avraham crossed over the fence. This is a humanitarian issue, and we expect those holding him to behave accordingly and return him in good health. According to the information which has arisen, Mengistu is being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. We will continue to make every effort in order to bring an end to this incident, as soon as possible,” President Reuven Rivlin said.

“Yesterday I spoke with the parents and siblings of Avraham Mengistu and I told them that from as soon as the incident became known we have spared no effort to return him to Israel. We agreed to meet soon,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israel is not treating Mengistu’s captivity as a kidnapping, though he “is being held against his will by Hamas in Gaza,” Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said. The area where he  entered Gaza is heavily monitored. At the time he crossed, Israeli soldiers beckoned Mengistu to come back (he didn’t), reported the The Jerusalem Post.

Little is known on exactly why Mengistu chose to enter Gaza. Israeli media is reporting that Mengistu is mentally ill for entering the Palestinian territory. Journalist Gershon Baskin said officials in Gaza also alleged Mengistu suffers from mental illness, yet he has a different theory on Mengistu’s current whereabouts, based his weekly conversations with Hamas leaders over the past six months: Mengistu could be in Egypt.

Baskin was involved in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas and still retains close ties to sources in Hamas.

“Hamas told me that [Mengistu] crossed into Gaza, was arrested and then interrogated by the police and the military wing,” then, “They determined that he was not mentally stable, and decided to return him to Israel. He refused to go back to Israel and was released in Gaza.”

Baskin’s Hamas contacts added that they did not track Mengistu’s movements once set free within the borders of the Gaza strip. They raised the possibility that Mengistu left for Egypt, clandestinely traveling through a tunnel that runs under the border. “I don’t know the truth, I just believe that if Hamas was holding on to him, they wouldn’t deny it,” said Baskin, “They would use him as a bargaining chip.”

The Hamas billboard alluding to the detention of Avraham Mengistu (the picture next to Shaul Oron’s with a question mark). (Photo: Mintpress News)

The Hamas billboard alluding to the detention of Avraham Mengistu (the picture next to Shaul Oron’s with a question mark). (Photo: Mintpress News)

Indeed Hamas has suggested for months that it is holding onto at least one unidentified captured Israeli. Hamas posted an advertisement in Gaza with an image of a question mark over the outline of a man held behind bars, reported journalist Richard Silverstein who published an image of the billboard over one month before the gag order was lifted. Although some of the biographical details in his coverage, like Mengistu’s age (Silverstein said the missing soldier was 24) are inconsistent with the information the government released today.

Silverstein also dispatched an unnamed colleague last month to interview Mengistu’s father, Aylin Mengistu.  “He was saddened and frustrated by the experience. He’d almost lost all hope,” he wrote.

Using stronger language today in an interview with Haaretz, Mengistu’s family said Israel is not giving their relative enough attention or pressuring Hamas because of racial bias. 

“It’s more than racism – I call it ‘anti-Blackism,’” Yalo Mengistu, the detained’s brother, told Haaretz. “I am one million percent certain that if he were white, we would not have come to a situation like this.”

The Mengistu family added that in the early months a Knesset member only reached out to them after they contacted her first on Facebook. They also said security officials told them to keep their son’s disappearance a secret. Previous Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, whose job it would have been to coordinate Mengistu’s release after his abduction, distanced himself today claiming to have no knowledge of the event.

By comparison in 2006 when Hamas took into custody Israeli solider Gilad Shalit and held him for five years, Shalit’s parents vocally advocated for their son’s release, prompting an international campaign to release the solider. Hamas too behaved differently. Rather than employing quiet pictorial references, the Islamic movement repeatedly publicized evidence that Shalit was alive. They eagerly sought to use him as a bargaining chip in a prisoner exchange. The abduction culminated in a massive prisoner deal in 2011 where over 1,000 Palestinians were released. Since the wave of releases 60 Palestinian prisoners freed have been rearrested, the latest occurring today near Jerusalem. Israelis have widely protested the prisoner deal, and Palestinians have criticized it a waste of leverage, citing many inmates had nearly completed their sentences anyways.

There is also no indication that talks are talking place now to release Mengistu, like during the Shalit affair. Hamas claims no negotiations have started with Israel, an unnamed “negotiator” who spoke to Hamas told the Times of Israel. Separately Hamas’s Hassan Yussef told Arabic media today that Israel should first free the 60 Palestinian prisoners who were released in the 2011 deal and then rearrested, before it will open a dialogue–contradicting other Hamas officials who denied all together that it is holding the Israelis.

While the Mengistu family has not confirmed if they have received any proof of life, or communication from Hamas, there is a possibility that an independent third party has already begun to broker channels of communication. 

Hamas political bureau spokesperson Khaled Mashaal said today Israel has already solicited support from a European mediator. As a matter of policy Israel and Hamas do not have formal diplomatic conversations and must use an outside interlocker. 

“A key part of our role in any conflict is to try and ensure families have contact with their families to ensure the safety of their relatives,” spokesperson for the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) Krista Armstrong said to Mondoweiss. While Armstrong noted the ICRC exercisers a 50-year confidentiality term for all cases where they seek to establish communication between detained persons and their relatives in conflict zones, she indicated it would be within her organization’s purview to handle cases like those of the two captive Israelis–if requested.

The ICRC has personnel and resources in Gaza, more importantly, it has experience in ensuring families “can find out the whereabouts of their relatives and restore contact,” she said. 

Correction: This article originally stated Avraham Mengistu was a former Israeli Defense Forces soldier. He reportedly was turn away from mandatory draft service for “unspecified mental issues,” according to the Times of Israel. 

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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13 Responses

  1. DaBakr
    DaBakr
    July 10, 2015, 10:02 am

    the main point being what? Avraham was not kidnapped and that makes it a bit different then the incident involving Shalot. That left-wing activists are trying to incite some type of negative press on this is hardly surprising.

    • a blah chick
      a blah chick
      July 10, 2015, 1:09 pm

      Yeah, I guess it’s the left-wing activists fault that Mengistu’s family was kept in the dark about what had happened to him and the lefties are to blame for the fact that the family was told not to talk to the media. And maybe it’s just a coincidence that Mr Netanyahu only met with the family the day before the story “officially” broke.

      No, the lefties don’t have to “incite” negative press on Israel because Israel does a much better job themselves.

      • John O
        John O
        July 10, 2015, 1:23 pm

        +1 abc

      • DaBakr
        DaBakr
        July 10, 2015, 9:22 pm

        As nobody knows what type of ‘mental illness’ prompted Avrhm to climb into Gaza most likely with full knowledge (unless it turns out he is schitzoprhc) of what would happen it is absolutely a different situation then when an active IDF is captured and taken. I would admit that had the crazy person been an attractive and lighter skinned Israeli women-the press coverage would have been wildly different. But this is not a condition unique to Israel and is quite common in the US as well and once again-it is definitely the Israeli left-aling with co-horts like MW- that is trying to make an issue about skin colour when had Avrhm been in the IDF and taken the full force of Isreali security force would have been searching and who knows what hell might have been raised.

  2. amigo
    amigo
    July 10, 2015, 10:12 am

    A black Israeli Jew and a Bedouin —9 months in the former case and 8 years in the latter , should demonstrate the imbalance with which Israel views their “Blue eyed , blond haired ” citizens versus “others”.

    If these were White Jews , all zionist hell would have been let loose , just like that which occurred when the three Israeli “children” , (one was nineteen) went missing.Hundreds of West Bak Palestinians were arrested and dozens of homes were demolished or damaged.

    Same old , same old from the rogue nation.

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr
      July 10, 2015, 9:27 pm

      @am

      he didn’t just go missing. he was observed by IDF/Border Patrol climbing into Gaza and refusing to come back.

      The press coverage of so-called ‘physically beautiful’ people-be they white brown or black or red in Israel-the habit of msn -in just about ALL western cultures including the US devote intensive coverage to ‘attractive’ missing bl;ones’ (e.g. continuing Natalie Holloway news) Not saying its right-but it is simply sour and caustic to act is if its some kind of unique bias. glass house and all means nothing to Zionist-haters

      • Marnie
        Marnie
        July 11, 2015, 1:50 am

        The US does not claim to be “the promised land” nor its favored inhabitants “the chosen people”. The zionist state is continually shooting itself in the foot and damaging it’s relations with other nations all on its own while blaming the blowback on “antisemitism”. BN insists, still, the IDF is the most moral army in the world. If you talk that big, you’d better be able to prove what you’re saying. He can’t. All he does is insist the zionist state is the only democracy in the middle east, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

        If you want shiny happy zionist stories I would steer you to Arutz Sheva, Jerusalem Post, the Times of Israel, Israel H’Yom………

  3. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    July 10, 2015, 10:50 am

    “They determined that he (Mengistu) was not mentally stable, and decided to return him to Israel. He refused to go back to Israel…”

    Sounds like a very sensible decision for a crazy guy.

    • turveyd
      turveyd
      July 11, 2015, 10:51 am

      To: a blah chick. I agree. He looks pretty sane to me. Handsome, comfortable in his skin. It is quite mystifying, the whole thing. I look forward to any updates……

  4. a blah chick
    a blah chick
    July 10, 2015, 1:30 pm

    Some idle thoughts on the matter:

    (1) I keep hearing about how Jew-hating the Hamas dudes are, that Jews would be cruely put to death if they so much as show their faces in Gaza. And yet when the awful, terrible, ISIS-lovin’ government in Gaza had a chance to publicly behead a real live Jew what did they do? They let him go.

    (2) I remember reading on al Qassam twitter feed during the war that they had captured a female solder. I think her name was something like Tamara. After this initial statement I never heard anything else about her. I certainly hope they don’t have a female captive because the rightwing nutjobs would go bat-sh** crazy. We don’t need to hear their disturb speculations on what might be happening to this Tender Flower of Judea languishing in the hands of Arab brutes.

    (3) This took a lot of nerve- “This is a humanitarian issue, and we expect those holding him to behave accordingly and return him in good health.” (Pres. Rivlin”)

    And the families of Khader Adnan and other Palestinian prisoners can certainly attest to the good care they routinely receive at the hands of the Israeli military.

    • DaBakr
      DaBakr
      July 10, 2015, 9:31 pm

      @abc

      you insult the intelligence of Hamas by griping as if they would really be stupid enough to blow an amazing opportunity at positive pr. They would never ‘behead’ or publicly execute a black mentally unstable Jew when they can make themselves look merciful to the gullible. That is the leadership position. Of course their are 1000s of Hamas members and not all of them are ‘Jew-hating’ , fanatics or crazy. But the fact remains-Hamas is in control and sets the rules. You can watch the executions of hooded Fatah members during last summers war.

  5. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    July 10, 2015, 8:28 pm

    RE: “As a matter of policy Israel and Hamas do not have formal diplomatic conversations and must use an outside interlocker.”

    MY COMMENT: Shouldn’t this be “interlocutor” rather than “interlocker”?

    FROM MERRIAM-WEBSTER:

    interlocutor
    noun in·ter·loc·u·tor \ˌin-tər-ˈlä-kyə-tər\
    : a person who is having a conversation with you

    Full Definition of INTERLOCUTOR

    1
    : one who takes part in dialogue or conversation
    2
    : a man in the middle of the line in a minstrel show who questions the end men and acts as leader

    SOURCE – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interlocutor

  6. es1982
    es1982
    July 11, 2015, 8:20 pm

    Two corrections: first, the yet unnamed Bedouin has been missing since April of this year (3 months ago), not since 2007. Second, the gag order was only about the two living Israelis in Gaza. It has not been a secret that the remains of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul are still in Gaza ever since they went missing and were declared dead.

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