According to an Israeli Defense Ministry statement Thursday, Hamas is holding two Israeli citizens in Gaza. The public admission followed reports that a Bedouin-Israeli from Israel’s Negev Desert had crossed into Gaza. Government sources said he had crossed the border several times in the past. In addition to the two, Hamas has refused to return the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers killed in the Israeli-Gaza Conflict.
Avera Mengistu, a 28 year-old Ethiopian-Israeli believed to be mentally ill, voluntarily climbed over a border fence from a public beach and entered Gaza on September 8, 2014. The day Mengistu disappeared, the Israeli military surveillance cameras spotted a man carrying a bag approaching the border fence. The camera operators initially believed that the man was a Palestinian returning to Gaza. When the alerted IDF soldiers arrived, they did not find Mengistu. The soldiers did, however locate Mengistu’s bag, which contained a copy of the Hebrew Bible, indicating his true citizenship.
Mengistu has been held in Gaza for ten months, but a court issued gag order on the situation prevented reports of his capture from surfacing. This revelation arrived after Haaretz challenged the gag order. Ilan Mengistu, one of Mengistu’s brothers, called on the Israeli government “to do everything to return my brother home safely.” The IDF responded to the Mengistu family’s demands for help with a promise that they will do all that is possible to rescue him.
Ilan Mengistu, the brother of Avraham Mengistu, speaks to the media as their parents stand with him, outside their home in the southern city of Ashkelon, Israel July 9, 2015. (Photo: Reuters)
Israel claims the likely captors are Hamas, and although the Islamist group has not corroborated Israel’s accusation, its response has been inconsistent. Hamas originally claimed that Mengistu was not in Gaza, then that he was in Gaza but because they were holding him, and finally that he had entered Egypt through Sinai. Mengistu’s mother accused Hamas of capturing him, saying, “Hamas is responsible for my son’s fate, they can not shirk their responsibility.” One of Hamas’ primary strategies in their campaign against Israel is to capture IDF members, regardless of whether they are dead or alive, and keep them as a bargaining chip. The bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF members killed in the Israeli-Gaza Conflict, have yet to be returned. It is possible that Hamas is detaining Mengistu for a similar purpose.
Major General Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), announced that available information suggests that Hamas captured Mengistu, citing “credible intelligence,” without providing more details. Senior defense officials, however, said that Mengistu’s true whereabouts are unknown. The Israeli government is working through third parties and behind the scenes in order to ensure a safe return for Mengistu.