Family of Bedouin missing in Gaza confident of his return
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Family of Bedouin missing in Gaza confident of his return

Father of mentally unstable man said held by Hamas turned to Gaza public figures rather than Israeli government for help

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

File: The border fence along the Israel-Gaza border, August 10, 2014 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
File: The border fence along the Israel-Gaza border, August 10, 2014 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The family of a Bedouin Israeli said to be held by Hamas in Gaza said it does not fear for his safety and is using the services of dignitaries on both sides of the border to secure his release.

The name of the 28-year-old man from the Bedouin town of Hura in the northern Negev has been placed under gag order at the request of his family, although news of his being in Gaza was cleared for publication last week. His father told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency on Monday that since his disappearance last April and up until last week the Israeli government hadn’t updated him on his son’s whereabouts a single time.

“Since we lost touch with our son, we thought he was in the West Bank, or moved to Egypt,” the father said. “Last Wednesday, when the gag order was lifted, the Israeli police turned to us and told us our son may be imprisoned by Hamas.”

The circumstances surrounding the man’s disappearance were unclear, but the few details that have so far emerge point to a case strikingly similar to that of Avraham Abera Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian extraction who voluntarily crossed over to the Gaza Strip 10 months ago, and is also believed to be held by Hamas. Though both men were said to have histories of mental illness, the Bedouin man’s family seemed confident of his well-being thanks to his Arab identity.

The brother of Avraham Mengistu speaks with the media at their home in Ashkelon, after a gag order was been lifted over Mengistu's disappearance in the Gaza Strip, on July 8, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The brother of Avraham Mengistu speaks with the media at their home in Ashkelon, after a gag order was been lifted over Mengistu’s disappearance in the Gaza Strip, on July 8, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“With all due respect, we are not dealing with an Israeli soldier but with an Arab Muslim of the Negev Bedouin,” one family member told Ma’an. “Any harm done to him could generally hurt the prestige of Hamas in the Negev, especially considering he suffers from mental illness since the age of 17.”

“As for his parents, they would rather he remain in Gaza and even marry there,” another relative went so far as to say.

The Israeli government has faced criticism over what is called its belated response to the disappearance of the two men and its insensitive treatment of Mengistu’s family.

‘With all due respect, we are not dealing with an Israeli soldier but with an Arab Muslim of the Negev Bedouin,’ one family member told Ma’an

But the Bedouin man’s family seemed to have few expectations of the government, preferring to deal with his disappearance through local tribal connections instead.

“When the family discovered that he may be with Hamas, we began calling dignitaries in the Gaza Strip,” said a family member. “One of them told us jokingly, ‘Most Gaza residents want to leave, while this crazy person is the only one prepared to live there.'”

An official on the Hura local council told Ma’an that the man had escaped from home many times in the past. His community has brought him back from Gaza twice before, as well as from Jordan, Egypt and the West Bank.

Hamas, for its part, has kept mum on the fate of the two Israelis. On Tuesday, a movement official in Lebanon refused to confirm whether the two were being held by Hamas, but hinted that it was holding the remains of soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge.

Hamas official Osama Hamdan (AP/Bilal Hussein)
Hamas official Osama Hamdan (AP/Bilal Hussein)

“The silence maintained by the movement has forced the occupation to start acknowledging its human losses precisely,” Osama Hamdan, head of Hamas’s external relations department, told his movement’s website al-Resalah. “The movement will not comment on the issue before Israel admits to the number of missing soldiers.”

Hamdan said Hamas refuses to link the implementation of the ceasefire agreement reached with Israel last summer with a future prisoner swap, a connection Israel insists on making.

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