The family of an Israeli man who went missing in 2014 after crossing into the Gaza Strip appealed Monday to the international community to help bring him home.
Avraham Mengistu, a 29-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent, was deeply depressed and suffering from mental problems when he wandered unarmed across the border to Gaza a year and a half ago, they said.
The Defense Ministry has determined that Mengistu was held by Hamas after illegally crossing the border, but the Islamist movement governing Gaza has provided no information about his whereabouts or condition.
“We are kept in the dark,” the man’s 30-year-old brother Gashao told AFP during a visit to Geneva, with a representative of Israel’s mission to the United Nations serving as translator.
His father Ayaline sat next to him, looking anxious and drawn, and his mother Agurnesh sat nearby, weeping quietly.
The family, who live in the southern city of Ashkelon, not far from the Gaza border, had traveled to Geneva to meet with diplomats and groups and appeal to them to put pressure on Hamas “to do the right thing,” Gashao said.
With his parents sitting nearby looking anxious and drawn, Gashao insisted “the international community has influence over Hamas.”
“They can help this go beyond politics. It is a human rights and a humanitarian issue,” he said.
“When Hamas is asking for humanitarian assistance, and contributions to the people in Gaza, then the international community should tell them: don’t expect us to assist you when you are violating the same rights of the other side,” Gashao said.
“We are talking about an innocent civilian. He’s not a soldier. He was never a soldier,” he said.
He explained that Avraham, distraught after the death of another brother and hospitalized several times for mental problems, had been exempt from Israeli military service.
The family rejected reports that they had previously been angry with the Israeli military’s reaction to Avraham’s disappearance, and had claimed that more effort would have been put into finding him if he were white.
Members of Israel’s 135,000-strong ethnic Ethiopian community say they suffer from discrimination.
But Gashao said this was not an issue in this case: ” The government is doing what it can.”
Israel does not allow its citizens to enter Gaza, partly over fears that they may be used as bargaining chips to demand concessions, including the release of prisoners.
In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for five years after he being kidnapped during a cross-border raid into Israeli territory.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.