I don’t know which is worse, Hamas acting like souk merchants touting marked-down merchandise they can’t sell; or a racist Israel which has abandoned two of its citizens to apparently unending imprisonment in Gaza. Both are despicable, though Israel’s betrayal of its citizen does seem worse.
Readers of this blog will remember that I was the first in the world to report two separate flights by Israeli citizens to Gaza. Both of those who escaped Israel appear to have done so due to mental health issues, though it’s hard to know for sure since both Israel and Hamas have been tight-lipped about the conditions of either. The first was Ethiopian-Israeli Avera Mengistu, who simply walked up to a border fence south of Ashkelon, swam into the ocean and crossed over to Gaza.
In October 2014, shortly after he left Israel (and before I knew his name) I reported:
“An Israeli-Ethiopian from Ashkelon crossed the border into Gaza several weeks ago. The man was allegedly mentally ill and no one knows what drove him to do this. He is being held by authorities in Gaza. Israel has placed a gag order on the incident and the media may not report it. His family has been told not to speak to the media as this might endanger him by raising his profile, though I’d venture to guess that the real reason is that it would embarrass the Israeli government and raise his value in a prisoner exchange.”
In attempting to maintain radio silence about Mengistu’s case, a Bibi toady was assigned to reassure the family the government was doing all in its power to save him, while doing nothing. A key element of the toady’s assignment was to keep the family quiet. But that didn’t work when the family went public with angry recriminations against the government for failing them and their son. Until the family went public, Mengistu’s case was under Israeli gag order. After, the gag was lifted.
Later, Israeli Bedouin Hashem al-Sayyed did the same. His father too complained that the government did nothing to help his son. But in Israel Bedouin have even less clout than Ethiopians (hard as that may be to believe given how little clout Ethiopians have) and al-Sayyed’s case remains under gag.
Hamas once before tried unsuccessfully to drum up interest in the two captives, claiming correctly that Israel had abandoned them; and nothing how shameful such behavior was. Of course, Hamas had a vested interest in pointing this out since it might raise the value of their two captives. But it didn’t work.
So yesterday, they tried again, releasing pictures of Mengistu, al-Sayyed, along with pictures of two IDF soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge. Neither body was retrieved by Israel, which presumably means their remains are in Hamas’ hands. In this grisly game between Israel and Hamas, even relics of the dead have political value.
Though I’m not surprised at Israel’s callousness in abandoning two citizens from largely despised minorities, I am rather shocked that Netanyahu refuses to negotiate for the release of the remains of Goldin and Shaul. Given this regime obsessed by protecting Jewish blood and bloodlines, I’d think they’d at least make an effort to retrieve their bodies.
An Israeli who is a veteran of previous prisoner exchange negotiations disputes my notion that Israel doesn’t care about the prisoners in Gaza. He says the problems lies with Hamas, which is demanding 4,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for what it claims (according to him) are four Israeli soldiers. Another Israeli journalist who covers Palestinian affairs disputes this notion. He says he’s never heard any claim from Hamas that it seeks that many prisoners. Since the prisoner negotiator, despite his success at negotiating an exchange in the past, is quite hostile to Hamas, I’m not sure I accept his characterization of the current situation. But it’s worth mentioning in this report.
Israel’s deliberate opacity in these cases, including the censorship and gag orders, have caused confusion among reporters. Some claim not to know who the four pictures represent. The NY Times’ Diaa Hadid went one better by claiming (or feigning) absolute ignorance of the identities of al-Sayyed and Mengistu, when she wrote:
…Hamas showed photographs…of four Israelis, two of whom it said were captives being held in Gaza. Two others were Israeli soldiers who were killed during the 2014 conflict in Gaza, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
…The identities of the other two people pictured were not immediately clear.
…Hamas is…holding an Arab citizen of Israel who has not been identified.
The two live captives are clearly Mengistu and al-Sayyed. In fact, I featured the same photo of al-Sayyed displayed by Hamas in my blog post just after he crossed the border to Gaza. For Hadid to claim that al-Sayyed has not been identified is almost journalistic malpractice. But of course, blogs aren’t legitimate news sources, even when they’re right, right?
Not to be outdone, the Times of Israel reported yesterday (falsely) that Hamas’ “finally acknowledged” that it had Israeli prisoners. Hamas has been boasting since 2014 that it held Israelis. I’m never one to expect much of TOI or its Likudist hedge fund sugar daddy, Seth Klarman, but I figured since I was on the subject, I’d add another black mark to their record.
I thank the anonymous Israeli sources who contributed to the reporting on these two stories since their inception. Perhaps in another time and under a freer Israeli regime, they could get their due.