In the first official protest since Avera Mengistu disappeared into Gaza last September, around 20 demonstrators – including relatives of Mengistu – rallied outside the gates of Hadarim Prison on Monday, in order to express what they said was a humanitarian demand that he be released from captivity.
The protesters chose Hadarim prison as the venue so that the rally could coincide with the weekly visit by relatives of Palestinian security prisoners held in the facility. The activists stood outside holding signs in Hebrew and Arabic and demanded that Palestinians send a message to Hamas to release Mengistu.
In comments addressed to the families of security prisoners in Israel, Mengistu’s brother Ilan said “While you are visiting your loved ones in Israel, Avera Mengistu, an innocent 29-year-old civilian, is being held in Gaza. Despite the fact that he is not well and was never a soldier, Hamas continues to keep him captive and refuses to release him or given any information on his whereabouts.”
He accused the Palestinian families of being “accomplices in the captivity of a helpless man who crossed into Gaza because he did not know what he was doing.”
In a statement after the protest, organizers said they wanted to emphasize that “we have chosen to take responsibility, without any help from the state, in order to secure the release of Mengistu.”
For 10 months the family of Mengistu kept silent about his disappearance, both because of a gag order on the case and because they were told by authorities that publicizing it could complicate efforts to secure his release.
On Sunday, activists said they decided to change tactics and begin demanding Mengistu’s release on humanitarian grounds, and that Monday’s protest would be the first step in this campaign.
Mengistu entered Gaza on September 7, 2014, climbing over the barrier near the seashore at Zikim beach. Soldiers who saw him called out to him to stop, but he continued into the Hamas-run enclave nonetheless.
Mengistu is one of two Israeli civilians currently being held in the Gaza Strip. The other is an unnamed Beduin from the South.