UPDATE: I also broke another major story today. Until now, Israeli media reported that two IDF soldiers were killed during a Hannibal Directive, in which the army kills one of its own troops to prevent capture by Palestinian militants. Now, I report that a third IDF solider, Amit Yeori, was also murdered by his own during last summer’s war. Thanks to Mint Press News for publishing both stories and recognizing their importance.
Yesterday, an Israeli judge approved the removal of the gag order preventing the media from reporting anything about the imprisonment of Avera Mengistu. This was a story I first reported here back in October and followed up on last month in a Mint Press News story. In that piece, I first identified Mengistu by name and excoriated the government for turning its back on him in large part because he was black. As his brother told the Israeli press yesterday: “This wasn’t just racism, it was blackism.”
I’m delighted that despite the fact that it took the Israeli media eleven months to say a word about his case, that now they are making up for it. All the major outlets ran stories and informed the Israeli public about a story that had been withheld from them for almost a year. But some media did better than others. NRG (formerly Maariv), a hard-right outlet, reported fully not just about Mengistu, but credited my own original reporting and contribution. Ynet and 972 Magazine also referred briefly to my role. Only the erstwhile “liberal” Haaretz excised me completely from the story. To believe their reporting, the only conversation about Mengistu happened among Israeli-Ethiopians on Facebook. The reporter couldn’t even be bothered to discover that for the past month I’ve been sending Facebook messages to every Israeli Ethiopian NGO and individual on the social media platform that I could find.
Despite e mails to the reporter and Aluf Benn, the managing editor, asking for a correction to their story, no response has been forthcoming. I’ll let you be the judge of what that says about Haaraetz’s journalistic principles. I should add that I regularly cover and credit Haaretz reporting here, while also criticizing it when warranted. It’s that part that rankles people like publisher Amos Schocken and Benn.
I’ve written about this in my new Mint Press article following up on the Mengistu saga. Please read it and distribute it on social media.
Yesterday, Haggai Matar reported at Mekomit that there is a second Israeli citizen held captive in Gaza. Matar did not identify him. I will now. An Israeli source has confirmed he is an Israeli Bedouin, Hashem Sha’aban al-Sayyed (age 27), from one of the Bedouin hamlets in Hura area. I do not know how he came to cross the border. This element of the story is under the same draconian gag order that prevented the identification of Mengistu till yesterday. Let’s hope that Haaretz can appeal the gag order on this case as well and get it removed. Let’s hope as well that Haaretz’s churlishness doesn’t prevent it from offering journalistic credit.
Haaretz interviewed al-Sayyed’s father, who told the reporter that despite claims by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon to the contrary, no Israeli official had had any contact with him and that he didn’t even know his son was being held in Gaza. Yaalon also warned Hamas that he held it responsible for the two captives’ safety. When you and your government has abandoned them for months–to announce that you hold the other guy responsible is a breathtaking bit of bluffery. We always knew Yaalon was a liar, but this performance is truly breathtaking. Most politicians would at least be embarrassed to be shown up by a mourning father. But for Yaalon, there is no shame.
Hashem had disappeared on April 20th. His father said Hashem is mentally-troubled and had twice previously cross the border and was returned. My hope is that just as the story on Mengistu led to the lifting of his gag order a month later, so the same may happen in the case of this poor Bedouin man.
There’s another element of embarrassment for the Israeli government in this case. The IDF monitors the Gaza-Israel border closely with surveillance cameras and regular patrols. Though the IDF refused to have any contact with Mengistu’s family for weeks after the incident, eventually they brought the family video evidence of Mengistu on the beach before he crossed into Gaza. The evidence, according to yesterday’s reports, showed him sitting on the beach reading a Bible, then approaching the fence and climbing over it. It shows his approaching several Gazans on the other side of the fence as well.
The army claims it immediately dispatched troops to investigate and prevent Mengistu from crossing. This doesn’t pass the smell test. If a terrorist was crossing into Israel from the same location, they would activate every force possible in order to meet the threat. In this case, they saw someone crossing in the “wrong” direction and did nothing to prevent it. Because they just didn’t care.
Yossi Melman offered a savage critique (the English version at the Jerusalem Post is considerably more toned down) of the Israeli security apparatus in his story for Maariv. He said it “spat in the face” of the Ethiopian community in Israel. “If the color of his skin had been different, the government’s attitude would’ve been as well.” Of course, he’s right.
He further reveals secret briefings offered to journalists about the case while it was still under gag in which they were told the government had met with the family and was doing all in its power to free him. Nothing of the sort happened. The prime minister refused to meet the family until an Israeli Ethiopian MK pressured him to do so. The meeting took place exactly one day before the judge ended the gag order.
The government pressured the family to remain silent. That’s why when I contacted Avera’s brother he refused to speak with me, as did a well-known Ethiopian journalist I contacted. Only his father, who is divorced and largely out of contact with the family, was willing to talk.
For all reading this, especially Israelis, let’s break the gag on reporting al-Sayyed’s name and predicament as we did Mengistu’s. They deserve no less from all of us.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.