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'We hope the prime minister sees there is a family here that asks, what's happening with our son?'

Family of Israeli held by Hamas protests outside PM’s Residence

Relatives of Avraham Mengistu, held in Gaza since 2014, mark two years since his capture

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

The family of Avraham Abera Mengistu, an Israeli man held by Hamas in Gaza, demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem Sunday evening. The protest marked two years since Mengistu went missing in September 2014.

Avraham’s brother Ilan spoke to the crowd of supporters at length about his brother’s captivity and the family’s frustrations with the government’s handling of the situation.

“We see that two years have passed, and my brother Abera is still imprisoned, and we see that they are not taking action to return him home,” Ilan said. “There’s no justifying his imprisonment, and we are going to fight in order to bring him home.”

The crowd sat in front of the entrance to the residence, blocking traffic, and chanted “Bibi, be ashamed,” and “Abera lives.” The protesters held signs reading “Humanitarian justice for Abera Mengistu,” and “Hamas is not above international humanitarian justice.”

Avraham Abera Mengistu's mother, Agurnesh, at a protest in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, September 11, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Avraham Abera Mengistu’s mother, Agurnesh, at a protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, September 11, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“We really hope that the prime minister sees that there is a close family here, a family that worries and asks, ‘what’s happening with our son?'” Ilan told The Times of Israel. “We’ve learned with time that without pressure, and without noise towards those responsible to bring him home, nothing moves.”

Hamas also holds the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul, Israeli soldiers who were killed in action in Gaza in the 2014 war, and Hisham al-Sayed, a mentally ill Israeli Bedouin who wandered into Gaza in April 2015 and has not been heard from since.

Avraham, 30, was exempt from IDF service due to unspecified mental health issues. His family and the Israeli government have framed his return as a humanitarian effort, and not political.

Avraham immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia with his family in 1991, when he was five years old, his brother said.

The family has criticized the government’s efforts to return him, and said that the government’s inaction is partly due to racism. A representative of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Lior Lotan, threatened the family over their public criticism of the government in July last year, telling them that linking Abera’s situation with Ethiopian Israeli accusations of discrimination would only extend his captivity.

Avraham Mengistu, undated. (Courtesy of the Mengistu family via AP)
Avraham Mengistu, undated. (Courtesy of the Mengistu family via AP)

The family held their first public demonstration in August, 2015, 11 months after Avraham went missing. Avraham’s brother, Gashao Mengistu, traveled to Geneva in February to plead his family’s case before European officials.

“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.

One of eight siblings, Avraham was born in Ethiopia in 1986. His parents, in their 50s and 60s, are divorced. Another of their sons died of illness before Avraham went missing. The father lives in central Israel, while the mother lives in Ashkelon.

The family staged a demonstration (Hebrew link) last week on Zikim beach, near where Avraham crossed into Gaza and near their home in Ashkelon.

Avraham Abera Mengistu's father, Ayaline, speaks at a protest in front of the Prime Minister's Residence, September 11, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Avraham Abera Mengistu’s father, Ayaline, speaks at a protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence, September 11, 2016. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Sha’ban al-Sayed, the father of Hamas captive Hisham al-Sayed, has spoken out against pressuring the government to take action to retrieve Israeli captives or the remains of the Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

Hamas initially denied holding Mengistu, before acknowledging he was their captive in April.

Hamas has previously used captives as leverage to urge Israel to release Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli jails. In 2011, Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, in four waves, in return for the return of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted and taken to Gaza in 2006.

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