“This Rosh Hashanah I will pray for the Goldin and Shaul families that Hamas will return Hadar and Oron to them. I will pray for the Mengistu and al-Sayed families, that Hamas will return Avera and Hisham to them. Please pray with me,” Greenblatt tweeted on Friday in advance of the holiday.
The Mengistu and al-Sayed families also issued a call on Thursday for the release of the two men, both of whom suffer from mental illness.They unveiled a new campaign, #SpecialNeedsCaptives, which highlights the fact that the two have a psychological disability.
Mengistu’s brother Ilan, who spoke at the event at The Jerusalem Press Club, noted that his brother was still alive and is being held just two hours from his home.
“We all know that within two hours Avera and Hisham could be back in their homes with their families and to have the medical care that they need and deserve," he said. "In two hours the suffering of four years can come to an end."
Mengistu, whose family immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, crossed into Gaza on September 6, 2014. According to Ilan, he was unaware of his action.
“Avera underwent a severe mental nervous breakdown following the death of our brother Michael. He was diagnosed and hospitalized a few times in a psychiatric hospital, unfortunately he was released before proper treatment was given,” Ilan said.
“Avera crossed the border as an innocent man, who is suffering from a mental disability. His tragedy remains a humanitarian tragedy that crosses all borders,” he said.
Addressing some of his words to his brother, Ilan said, “You, my brother, Avera, the love of our hearts, if you hear me, know that we love you, there is not a day that we are not working so hard to free you, be strong for mother and father and for all of us, we all love you.”
Ilan asked the international community, including the UN and the EU, to act on his brother’s behalf. He also called on the government to include the release of the captives in any agreement it made with Hamas.
Sha’aban, who is an Israeli-Bedouin, also called on the Palestinians to pressure Hamas for his son’s release.
The story of the two men is often mistakenly connected to the 2014 Gaza war, Sha’aban said. His son and Mengistu crossed into Gaza after the war because they are suffering from mental illness, and their captivity has nothing to do with the war. He noted that his son disappeared there in 2015.
“Avera and Hisham have no connection to the military or security conflict. To hold them as a political card is not logical,” Sha’aban said.
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Ran Goldstein, the executive director of the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights, said that, according to the World Health Organization, every person coping with mental problems has the right to be protected from exploitation or physical abuse.
The organization has called for their release. However, although its members enter Gaza regularly, they have not succeeded in gleaning any further information than what is already known.
“What we understand is that to gain real evidence from the Gaza side, they would like to get something for it. That is unacceptable,” he said, adding that the men should be released unconditionally.
On Friday, the Goldin family held a protest near the Gaza border in which they called for the release of the two captives and the remains of their son Hadar and that of Oron Shaul, both of whom are presumed to have been killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
Simha Goldin called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do his soul searching for the new year: “Whoever sees the words of the former coordinator of POWs and MIAs, Col. (res.) Lior Lotan, understands how the Israeli government did not do what it could or even what it had to do in the context of the boys’ return. Lior resigned because the government did nothing.
“The prime minister has to do his soul-searching. Under his leadership, the government has missed opportunities, not taken advantage of opportunities, and has not done what it needs to do to restore Hadar, Oron, Avera and Hisham."