Mengistu and al-Sayed.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE FAMILY,FACEBOOK)
Human Rights Watch has called on Hamas to release three Israeli men believed to be forcibly held in Gaza: Avera Mengistu, 30, Hisham al-Sayed, 29, and Jumaa Abu Ghanima, 19.
The plight of the missing men, all of whom suffer from mental illness, has received little media attention in Israel. Mengistu is a Jewish Ethiopian immigrant; Sayed and Abu Ghanima are Beduin.
There is nothing “heroic” about the forced disappearance of men with mental illness that belong to marginalized communities in Israel, HRW said.
The NGO on Wednesday released a report that was based on interviews it conducted with friends and family of the three men, interviews with Israeli and Hamas officials, and reviews of medical and military documents.
“Hamas’s refusal to confirm its apparent prolonged detention of men with mental health conditions and no connection to the hostilities is cruel and indefensible,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East director. “No grievance or objective can justify holding people incommunicado and bartering over their fates.”
The report said there was stronger evidence that Mengistu and Sayed were being held by Hamas, than there was for Abu Ghanima. Photographs and technological evidence show that Mengistu crossed into Gaza in September 2014, and Sayed in April 2015.
According to his family, Abu Ghanima crossed into Gaza in July 2016, but no evidence from Israel or Hamas has corroborated that account, HRW said.
Brother of missing Israeli Avraham Mengistu calls for government to bring him back from Gaza (July 9, 2015)
The report did not focus on IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, presumed to be casualties of the 2014 Gaza war whose bodies are believed to be held by Hamas. Instead, it referred solely to the three men who are presumed to be alive.
Under international law, Hamas is obligated to release the men, who entered Gaza for reasons unrelated to the conflict, HRW said.
“The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the [Palestinian Authority] ratified in April 2014, also provides protections for people with psycho- social, or mental health, disabilities, including freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment and equal access to justice, which may include reasonable accommodations that take into account their disability.
“Enforced disappearance violates many of the rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the [authority] ratified in 2014, including the requirement to bring detainees promptly before a judge.
“International human rights law would require authorities to detain [the men] solely according to clear domestic law, which would mean either to charge them with a recognizable crime or release them. The same principles would apply to Abu Ghanima if he is in custody.”
Attempts to portray Mengistu and Sayed as IDF soldiers were dismissed in the report: “An April 2016 video issued by the Hamas armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, refers to both Mengistu and Sayed as soldiers, showing each in photographs, which appear to be photoshopped, in military uniforms, alongside photographs of Shaul and Goldin.
“Documents Human Rights Watch reviewed indicate that an Israeli Defense Forces medical committee found Mengistu ‘unfit for [military] service’ in March 2013 and exempted him from mandatory conscription,” the NGO stated. “They also indicate that Sayed volunteered for military service in August 2008, but was discharged less than three months later after the military determined him ‘incompatible for service,’ and is not part of the reserve forces.”
Hamas has insisted that it will not divulge any information about the missing men until Israel releases 54 of its members imprisoned in Israeli jails, HRW said.
Those prisoners were released as part of the 2011 deal between Israel and Hamas to free captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, but were again arrested by the IDF in 2014. Those arrests were conducted as part of Israel’s crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank in response to the group’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.