An Israeli court lifted reporting restrictions on the disappearance of the Israeli Ethiopian, Avera Mengistu, on Thursday morning, 10 months after he went missing, following a request from Haaretz.
The name of the Israeli Arab, who had apparently crossed the border with Gaza a number of times in the past, has not yet been released.
Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal told reporters in Doha on Wednesday that Israel had approached the organization via European mediators and requested the release of two prisoners and two bodies being held in Gaza.
Meshal said that Hamas could not respond or give details, and would not agree to any negotiations on the matter until Israel released the prisoners who had been freed in the Shalit deal and were rearrested following the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teens in the West Bank.
Not his first time
On the day of Mengistu’s disappearance, Israeli military surveillance cameras observed a man approaching the Gaza border fence on Zikim Beach. Female Israel Defense Forces soldiers on electronic lookout duty saw he was carrying a bag, which aroused suspicion that he was a Palestinian trying to return to the Gaza Strip.
IDF Southern Command soldiers stationed in the Gaza sector rushed to the scene. By the time they arrived, however, the man had managed to climb the fence and vanish into the Gaza Strip.
Mengistu’s brother, Yalo, 32, told Haaretz that Avera left the bag he had been carrying on the beach, with a copy of the Hebrew Bible inside. According to Yalo, it was only when the soldiers opened the bag that they realized he was an Israeli citizen.
Following the incident, Israel contacted the Red Cross, as well as officials in the Gaza Strip via the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav (Poli) Mordechai. Israel informed them that a mentally challenged Israeli citizen had crossed the border into the Gaza Strip, and demanded his return to Israeli territory.
Israeli authorities cannot say with any certainty what has happened to Mengistu – whether he is alive or dead, in Gaza or even Egypt, to where he may have continued his journey. This is apparently not the first time he has tried to enter the Gaza Strip.
’More than racism’
Mengistu’s family led calls to publicize his disappearance. “We are fed up. We want to go public with his story,” Yalo told Haaretz. “The day it happened, a person from the Shin Bet security service or the police called me and said my brother was in Gaza. I told my parents and my siblings, and that’s how we found out. But no one came to see us at our home.”
It was only after Yalo contacted then-MK Pnina Tamano-Shata (Yesh Atid) on Facebook that the family met with army representatives.
“Two weeks after I contacted Pnina, the commander of the Gaza division came to see us for the first time," recalled Yalo. “He told me they knew my brother was in Gaza, and that they have people who are keeping track of him and will bring him back – but that we should not tell people.”
Yalo said that if a white person had wandered into the Gaza Strip, the state’s response would have been completely different. “It’s more than racism – I call it ‘anti-Blackism,’” he said. “I am one million percent certain that if he were white, we would not have come to a situation like this.”
In one of the meetings between the Mengistus and the defense establishment, family members were shown footage from the security camera on the Ashkelon beach, showing how Avera crossed the border.
“In the film, you see him on the beach,” related Yalo. "He is walking calmly, as though he knows what he is doing, striding across the sand until he comes to the fence – which is the only thing separating [Israel] from Gaza. He climbs over the fence and starts walking. On the Gaza side, you see two people in the water and another person [on the beach]. My brother starts walking, climbs a hill where there is a tent and three people, and he sits with them. End of story.”
According to the missing man’s brother, representatives of the IDF’s Gaza division later took the family to the beach. “They told us that soldiers approached him and called out to him to stop, but that he didn’t agree and climbed over the fence. You don’t see the soldiers in the film.”
This version also contradicts the previous Southern Command story that soldiers were sent to stop Mengistu, but didn’t reach him before he cleared the fence.