No gestures can be made toward Hamas until the living Israeli civilians and the bodies of IDF soldiers are brought back to Israel, lawmakers said in a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting Tuesday.
The committee met with the family of Abera Mengistu, who has been held in Gaza for 1,360 days. Mengistu is mentally ill and crossed into Gaza voluntarily, though IDF soldiers were supposed to have stopped him. But Hamas has kept him captive since then.
“There will not be any arrangement with Hamas in Gaza without the boys coming home,” Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) said. “There is no difference in this matter between soldiers and civilians.”
Another Israeli who is thought to be alive, Hisham al-Sayed, is being held captive in Gaza, as are the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who are presumed to be dead since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
The cases of Mengistu and Sayed, who is Beduin, have received less public attention than Shaul and Goldin, in part because Hebrew is not their families’ first language, and they have had greater difficulty expressing themselves.
Haili Mengistu, Abera’s father, addressed the committee in Amharic, with Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamnu-Shata translating into Hebrew. He thanked the committee for “opening a door to the Israeli public.”
“I hope that I will not die crying, without my son returning,” he said. “For four years we have asked everyone, with tears in our eyes, so they will help us. There’s no response. We have been sitting outside the Prime Minister’s Residence for two months... Sometimes I see the prime minister enter, but I feel that he passes and isn’t interested, doesn’t ask about us... The answers we’ve gotten from him are that we shouldn’t be overly concerned or speak publicly about the matter.
Mengistu called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to mention his son in his international travels and speeches. But Netanyahu has said it is better to work discreetly.
Tamnu-Shata, who initiated the meeting, pointed out that in March, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited the region and met with the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories to discuss Palestinian health issues.
“Ghebreyesus is responsible for the Red Cross,” she said. “The government says they did everything, but Ghebreyesus met with [COGAT] and others and was supposed to meet with the prime minister... And the coordinator of captive-and-missing- people issues, Yaron Bloom, asked why he wasn’t told in advance if they knew the WHO is visiting Gaza.”
Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin said the families no longer trust the system.
“The ministerial committee for captives and missing people isn’t holding meetings, isn’t acting and isn’t taking responsibility,” she said. “Humanitarian gestures [for Gaza] are important and must be made only in exchange for humanitarian steps by Hamas.”
“A government that is responsible for its civilians and soldiers cannot behave with such outrageous apathetically and inaction,” Nahmias-Verbin said.