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Family of Israeli Arab held in Egypt: PM ignored us because we’re not Jews

Ouda Tarabin’s family say no official has called or visited in the 15 years since the teen was jailed in Cairo for espionage

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The family of an Arab Israeli serving a 15-year jail sentence in Egypt for espionage on Israel’s behalf has accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of treating the families of non-Jewish Israeli hostages differently from their Jewish counterparts.

Israel Radio on Sunday quoted Yitzhak Melzer, the attorney for the family of Ouda Tarabin, as saying that while Netanyahu visited the family of Avraham Mengistu within days of his captivity in Gaza coming to light, the prime minister did not extend the same courtesy to the family of the Bedouin hostage also being held by Hamas in Gaza.

This attitude was nothing new, Melzer said, adding that former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert were similarly remiss after the 19-year-old Ouda was captured by Egyptian security forces in 2000.

Two Israelis, Mengistu and a second unnamed Bedouin captive, have been held in Gaza for months. A court-imposed gag order on the story was lifted Thursday following a legal petition by two Israeli media outlets.

Netanyahu visited the Mengistu family on Friday for the first time since Avraham disappeared into the Gaza Strip last September, and assured them that Israel was doing all it could to secure his release.

Israel has said it expects Hamas to release the captives on humanitarian grounds and has indicated it will not release any prisoners in exchange for the two, who apparently crossed into the Palestinian enclave of their own accord.

An Israeli official told the Walla news outlet Friday that efforts to return the two were unrelated to Israel’s negotiations over the bodies of the two IDF soldiers held by Hamas since last summer’s fighting.

Avraham Mengistu, 28, who is being held captive by Hamas (Facebook)
Avraham Mengistu, 28, who is being held captive by Hamas (Facebook)

The publication of the news last week has sparked criticism of the government’s handling of the case.

Members of the Ethiopian Israeli community have held several protests in recent months against police brutality and discrimination they say is leveled specifically at Ethiopian-Israelis.

The government’s silence about Mengistu’s captivity for over ten months prompted some accusations of racism in recent days, including by Hamas. “Obviously, the real Israeli motto is “leave no ‘Ashkenazi’ man behind”. #RacistIsrael,” the terror group wrote Thursday on its English Twitter account.

Little is known of the whereabouts of Mengistu, who climbed over the Gaza security fence in September of last year. Family members have described Mengistu as “unwell” and urged Hamas to consider his condition and return him to Israel immediately.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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