The family of an Israeli man who vanished after crossing into the Gaza Strip in September 2014 protested outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday morning, demanding that no reconciliation deal be made with Turkey unless it brings their son home.
Ilan, the older brother of Avraham “Abera” Mengistu, told The Jerusalem Post that “we are in favor of humanitarian aid for Gaza, but only if it’s for everyone – only if Abera also receives the humanitarian aid he has been denied.”
Ilan Mengistu said he sees the proposed reconciliation deal – which is expected to include an easing of restrictions on the Gaza Strip – “is a capitulation to Hamas. They can’t be above the law. There is no justification for them to hold an innocent man against his will. We must not surrender to them.”
Mengistu said he spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Friday and said he had told him that the government is making efforts to return his brother, but could give no official details.
Though some supporters of the Mengistu family said previously that they wanted at least a sign of life to be included in the deal with Turkey, Ilan went further, saying, “We aren’t looking for a sign of life – we are looking to bring him home. He is in emotional distress and we can’t make any deal that doesn’t bring him home.”
On Monday the family and their supporters plan to protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv at 5 p.m., Ilan said.
Abera Mengistu is one of seven brothers and three sisters from an Ethiopian-Israeli family from a poor neighborhood of Ashkelon.
He was last seen in Israel on September 7, 2014, when soldiers saw him climbing over the barrier fence with Gaza near Zikim beach. Soldiers called on him to stop but he continued into Hamas-controlled Gaza. He is one of two Israeli civilians being held in Gaza; the other is a Beduin from the south.
Abera’s captivity was kept under a media ban for 10 months, prompting allegations of racism, with the claim that the abduction of an Israeli from a white middle-class family would not have been kept under wraps in the same way.
At the start of the cabinet meeting in Sunday, Netanyahu said that Israel is making all efforts to bring back the remains of two IDF soldiers held by Hamas, as well as Mengistu and the Beduin.
“We are in constant communication with the families and we will not rest until their sons are brought home,” Netanyahu said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan spoke on Sunday to the families before the cabinet meeting, and said that on Wednesday there would be another cabinet meeting where they would discuss efforts to return the Israelis held in Gaza.
He added that “unfortunately Hamas will not confirm that they are holding Abera or that they know where he is, not that I believe them.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, over two dozen family members and friends of IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul demonstrated at Netanyahu’s residence to demand that the return of his and Lt. Hadar Goldin’s bodies are part of the reconciliation agreement with Turkey.
Shaul and Goldin were killed in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. It is believed their remains are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Shaul’s family said it is unacceptable that the deal with Turkey does not stipulate the return of both bodies.
Wearing T-shirts with Shaul’s image and the words “Bring back Oron,” cousins Reut Gazit and Yifat Namimi said two years is too long for any family to wait for the return of a fallen soldier.
“The family has waited and waited patiently, and nothing happened,” said Reut under a scorching sun.
“We thought that it’s about time there is an agreement with Turkey because this is our last chance to get our cousin back, and we don’t want our prime minister to forget us and forget Oron.”
“This is the time to act,” she continued, “and we’re going to stay here until it happens.”
“Oron was very close to me,” added Namimi. “It has been a very difficult time for us. The family put all of our trust in the prime minister for two years, and now after we heard about the agreement with Turkey we are furious because it is unacceptable to give away gifts and not get Oron and Hadar back.”
Namimi continued: “They are part of the country – they went to war to protect the people in Israel and they deserve to be back here.
Today it’s us, tomorrow it’s someone else. The whole country should be united in this purpose, because you can never know when it will knock on your door.”
While the family conceded that the government has indeed repeatedly attempted to secure the return of the bodies, they contend that two years is too much time for any family to wait.
“They tried but it’s not enough,” said Gazit. “As long as Oron and Hadar are not here, it’s not enough.
Every mother who sends their child to the military, and God forbid, to a war, should know that the country will do anything and everything to bring them back home, and this is what we want.”
Another cousin, Roy Namimi, added that it is unjust that Hamas will receive humanitarian benefits out of a deal that does not include the return of the soldiers’ bodies.
“It’s unacceptable that after we waited for two years Hamas is going to get such great benefits without us getting our boys back,” he said.
Asked what they would say to Netanyahu if given the chance, all three cousins echoed the same sentiment.
“You sent them to war, you need to get those boys back,” said Gazit.
“Make the agreement with Turkey include getting our boys back.”
“Bring them home,” added Roy, who said the family will continue the demonstration until the deal is amended.
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