(October 11, 2020 / JNS) As the Jewish people close the book on the last year and look ahead to the new one, there is much to be grateful for, especially as Israel seems closer to regional peace than ever before. But, while Israel celebrated its historic normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Hamas marked the occasion with a salvo of rocket attacks on the southern Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod. Hamas’s frequent targeting of civilian areas will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the terror group.
For decades, Hamas has perpetrated gruesome and unprovoked attacks on Israeli civilians, leaving no demographic unharmed. Its long list of victims ranges from infants to the elderly. Further aggravating these acts of terror is Hamas’s pathological rationale that no one in Israel is considered a non-combatant, or to quote Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar during a 2016 conversation with an international human-rights group: “There are no civilians in Israel.”
This “principle” extends beyond terror victims and is currently being used to justify the incommunicado detention of Avraham “Avera” Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, two young Israeli citizens who have no affiliation with the Israel Defense Forces and documented histories of mental illness.
Mengistu was born in Ethiopia and made aliyah with his family at age 5. After settling in Ashkelon, the family endured a series of hardships, both economic and personal. Mengistu’s older brother, Masrashau, died in 2011. According to friends and family, it was around this time that Mengistu began to exhibit a psychological disorder that purportedly intensified in the months before his detainment by Hamas in Gaza and his subsequent disappearance.
On Sept. 7, 2014, the then 32-year-old Mengistu crossed the border into Gaza of his own volition. Despite a series of warning shots fired by an IDF patrol, he continued over the border fence. He has not been seen by an Israeli since then. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know his current condition because in the six years since he is believed to have been captured and held captive by Hamas, there has not been a single detail about him or even confirmation that Hamas is holding him.
Al-Sayed, the young Israeli Bedouin from the southern town of Hura, who also crossed the border of his own volition in 2015, is in a similar situation. According to al-Sayed’s family, he, too, suffers from mental illness. For years, his family has pleaded publicly to Hamas for his release; five years later, his fate is still unknown.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms on its website that Hamas is holding captive the two men.
Hamas also refuses to return the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza during the 2014 “Operation Protective Edge,” Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, 20. A few hours into what was to be a ceasefire, Hamas attacked a group of IDF soldiers working to demolish a network of the terror group’s cross-border tunnels.
It is believed that Goldin was killed during the attack and his body dragged into the tunnel from which Hamas militants had emerged. Two other soldiers died along with Goldin. The previous month, Shaul and six other IDF soldiers were killed in their armored personnel carrier by an anti-tank missile fired by Hamas. Shaul’s body was never found. The Goldin and Shaul families have endured years without proper closure.
Hamas’ complete disregard for the ethical norms that most of the world abides by is not surprising considering it is a terror organization. The interminable length of being held incommunicado, to say nothing of the unlawful detainment of mentally ill non-combatants, is in flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Under this covenant, Mengistu and al-Sayed must be brought before a local judge shortly after their initial detention, thus revealing and confirming their identity, as well as charging them with an offense.
Failing even this, their detainment now falls under the classification of an enforced disappearance. Hamas has also refused to allow the International Red Cross, or any other organization, to check on their health and well-being, yet another indication of Hamas’ depravity.
This indefinite and surreptitious confinement, coupled with troubling psychological distress, amounts to cruel and inhumane torture. Violating international law further still, Hamas is attempting to use any information on the captured men as a bargaining chip in a prisoner swap for members of Hamas currently held by Israel. It appears that neither Mengistu nor al-Sayed would actually be surrendered in exchange for the Hamas prisoners; instead, Hamas would only reveal the most basic information confirming the captivity and proof of life of the two Israeli men.
Hamas’s kidnapping and detaining of civilians in secret captivity is an appalling violation of human rights. Six years later, the international community remains silent on the situation. There has been a virtual blackout in the international media, as well.
While major news outlets disproportionally and unfairly focus on Israel, one would think that the enforced disappearance of two civilians at the very least would warrant a mention. Disappointing, yet not surprising, Hamas’ human-rights abuses continue to go largely ignored by the media.
The Mengistu and al-Sayed families, with their limited financial resources, have reached out to countless international humanitarian organizations and attempted communication through several diplomatic channels over the years to no avail. The movement to #FreeAvera, #BringHadarHome and #BringOron home is large in Israel, and a determined group of those fighting for the return of all four refuse to give up hope. But in today’s political climate, with social-justice organizations marching for the human rights of all—where is the public outcry in the West over these blatant injustices?
Those of us who engage in advocacy for Israel are not surprised by the inhumanity of Hamas, which is responsible for incessant terror toward all Israelis. We are well aware that Hamas does not play by the rules of war or the norms of humanity; that its children’s television shows glorify suicide bombers; that it lynches LGBTQ people publicly; that it imprisons journalists; that it sends incendiary balloons to Israeli kindergartens; that it spends humanitarian relief funds on building underground tunnels to attack Israeli civilians instead of feed its people. But it is not the sole responsibility of Israel or its advocates to tell this story.
The Jewish people have just spent 10 days reflecting and asking forgiveness from God and from one another. As we move forward in the new year, we commit ourselves to helping, in any way we can, bring Mengistu and al-Sayed—and the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul—home to their families.
The topic of their return is on our agenda each time we hold policy meetings with diplomats asking them to raise their voices over this travesty. We must do all that we can to increase public outcry and demand their release. We owe it to these helpless young men who have no voice to ask.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is the chief executive officer and executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.
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