Where is the outrage? Free Avera Mengistu!

You probably haven’t heard about Avera Mengistu, the Ethiopian-Israeli Jew struggling with schizophrenia, who was kidnapped by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Avera Mengistu (photo credit: Courtesy)
Avera Mengistu
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Right now, a black man suffering from a mental illness is being held captive by one of the world’s leading terrorist organizations.
Also right now, a 17-year-old blond-haired, blue-eyed Palestinian is on trial in Israel for assaulting Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.
One of them has captured the hearts of do-gooders in the West, and one of them has been ignored entirely. Can you guess which? You’ve probably heard about Ahed Tamimi, the blond Palestinian.
Ahed made headlines after her mother uploaded a video on social media of Ahed slapping, biting and punching an IDF soldier. The soldier did not respond to her assault.
Ahed, whose family is notorious for its acts of terrorism and staged propaganda campaigns against Israel and its citizens, was later arrested for the assault. The arrest and trial of Ahed led to much uproar in the West about the fact that she was 17.
In contrast, you probably haven’t heard about Avera Mengistu, the Ethiopian-Israeli Jew struggling with schizophrenia, who was kidnapped by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Why? Because despite all the movements for equality around the world, the world still isn’t paying enough attention to the minority groups that need it most.
Avera Mengistu’s case has been ignored by the international press for three-and-ahalf years because he falls into not one, not two, but three of the categories that no one wants to address: black, Jewish and people suffering from mental illnesses.
The deafening silence from international bodies is heartbreaking and a true testament to the subtle racism and discrimination that plagues our society in the West, not to mention a testament to the undeserved stigma surrounding mental illness.
These are the facts: Avera Mengistu is a 29-year-old Jewish Israeli who emigrated from Ethiopia when he was only five years old. He was raised in Ashkelon in an extremely impoverished family as one of 10 children. When Avera turned 18, instead of joining the army as all Israeli citizens do, he was exempted from military service due to his medical condition.
Avera has struggled with schizophrenia for years, and according to his family, after his parents divorced, his older brother Masrashau was largely responsible for keeping him on track in dealing with his illness. But when Masrashrau suddenly died in 2011, Avera’s life began to unravel. He began to disappear for long periods and refused to take his medications. He was hospitalized twice, even voluntarily, but after recovering enough to leave, he again threw away his medication. His life took a downward spiral in the year prior to his abduction by Hamas.
AVERA’S FAMILY lives in Ashkelon, only a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by terrorist organization Hamas. In September 2014, Avera wandered away from home, again in the direction of Gaza. When he approached the border at Zikim Beach, the IDF operated with their standard procedure, firing in the air and calling out for him to stop.
Likely startled, Avera can be seen on security camera footage dropping his backpack and climbing the fence to get away... into Gaza. Israeli intelligence reported that the last information it obtained was that Hamas has taken him captive against his will.
Since then, Hamas has been relatively quiet on the affair, although it has tweeted about the incident. The International Red Cross and Amnesty International met with the Mengistu family. During the meeting, the family provided medication in hopes they could transfer it to Avera and get more information. But all attempts have been futile, as Hamas has not released any information.
This heartbreaking story is a testament to the failure on many sides to properly care for the weakest members of society.
And today it serves as testament to the lack of concern for underprivileged minorities in the international community.
Around the world, there is a stigma associated with schizophrenia and all mental illnesses. Thanks to inaccurate representations in the media and on television, your average person on the street would think that someone who is mentally ill is a violent and sociopathic serial killer.
In reality, mental illnesses affects millions worldwide, including an estimated 51 million people with schizophrenia alone, and statistically almost none of them is violent.
Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia, yet schizophrenia is often depicted that way to explain inexplicable evil in popular culture.
This is shameful. Schizophrenia should never be used as a term to denigrate. People like Avera need our help.
In the last few years we have also seen a massive pushback against anti-black discrimination by social justice movements.
There is no question that there are double standards when it comes to the treatment of blacks in the United States and in many other places. Yet not one of these groups has lobbied on behalf of Avera. Why? Finally, violence against Jews has led the FBI charts among all religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States for more than 20 years – and the US is one of the least antisemitic countries in the world! Every Jew in the world should know the story of Avera and speak out for his release.
Avera’s story should only motivate the international community even more to take action. And yet, we see the opposite. To put it crassly, it doesn’t sell papers to talk about the schizophrenic black Jewish man like it sells papers to talk about a blond white Palestinian girl – regardless of what the story is.
Amnesty International and other “human rights” organizations are quick to criticize Israel, to rally the troops, so to speak, against the only Jewish state in what they deem to be “support” for Palestinians.
Yet they give terrorist organizations like Hamas a free pass when it kidnaps an Israeli civilian with a mental illness, just because it doesn’t make headlines.
It’s time to raise our voices against this blatant double standard in the international press and ensure that Avera is returned home safely to his family for proper care. Not a day should go by without the Palestinian leadership being pressured to correct this horrendous crime its committed, and that can only be achieved through raising awareness and political pressure on international leaders and bodies to demand answers.
It’s time to bring Avera home.
Emily Schrader is the digital director of StandWithUs.