Skip to main content

Two Israeli civilians missing in Gaza

Fate of Israeli-Ethiopian Avera Mengistu, 28, is unknown, following early reports that he was being held by Hamas
An Israeli of Ethiopian descent cries during a ceremony in Jerusalem commemorating Ethiopians that died during their immigration to Israel 17 May 2015 (AFP)

Two Israeli civilians are missing in the Gaza Strip, one of whom is being held by Hamas 10 months after illegally entering the Palestinian territory, and there are fears for his life, Israeli media reported on Thursday.

Haaretz newspaper said Abera Mengistu, 28, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, crossed the border in September 2014 but it was only on Thursday that a court lifted reporting restrictions.

Israel's defence minister said in a statement that in another incident, a Bedouin Israeli citizen from the Negev is also in Gaza territory, but his name is being being withheld.

Hamas, Gaza's de facto rulers, have denied the men are in their hands. 

Mengistu's family has been critical of the Israeli government for its low-key response, saying the matter would have been handled differently if Israeli-Ethiopian Avera Mengistu were white. 

The family has not met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he has not responded to a letter they sent after the incident, according to sources close to the family. 

In the first months after Mengistu's disappearance, the story spread via social networks – mainly Ethiopian immigrants' forums, who shared foreign media reports.

A protest has developed on Facebook recently, with users changing their profile photos to ones with a black background and Mengistu's name in white letters.

More than 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel, having immigrated there in two waves in 1984 and 1991. But they have struggled to integrate into Israeli society, despite serving in the army and receiving government aid.

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis protested on the streets of Jerusalem earlier this year after a video was posted online showing a police officer attacking an Ethiopian soldier for no apparent reason.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.