Relatives of Abera Mengistu, who has been held in the Gaza Strip since last September, on Monday morning arrived at Hadarim Detention Center in central Israel to protest his confinement in the Gaza Strip.
The relatives were joined by social activists holding signs with slogans such as: "Free Abera Now" and "Abera's mother wants to visit him, too". The protest occurred while Palestinians visited relatives inside the prison. Police allowed only 25 protesters to arrive, and these handed out Arab-language pamphlets to relatives of prisoners.
"We have come here today to send a message: Holding a helpless, mentally ill man is an unprecedented crime, and we want to release him immediately and give him the medical treatment he requires," said Ilan Mengistu, Abera's brother.
The decision to address families of prisoners was made, he said, because "it's one of the ways to deliver the message – because there are prisoners here, some with blood on their hands, who receive all the humanitarian aid – be it medical treatment or meals – and all of this at whose expense? The taxpayers' expense. Which I pay and you pay and all Israeli citizens pay – it doesn't make any sense." He said he hoped to thwart the transfer of humanitarian aid to Hamas, "because Hamas is a terrorist organization".
The 29-year-old Mengistu, who is an Ethiopian Israeli, crossed the border into Gaza in September 2014, but the news was only cleared for publication last month. At that time, it was also revealed that a Bedouin youth was also in Gaza.
Up to now now, the Mengistu family abided by the government's request that it keep a low profile, and even asked social activists from the Ethiopian community, who were determined to launch a campaign for Mengistu's release, to hold off on such efforts.
Now, however, they are breaking their silence and calling on Israelis to join their protest.
Sources in contact with the family said that "this is a different protest than the Gilad Shalit case, because this is a humanitarian case rather than a military one. The family is aware of the difference, and aware of the existing difficulties. On the other hand, they want to see their son return home. We want to put pressure on Hamas using the families of the prisoners."