Mengistu’s Moment: What His Case Tells the World About Hamas

Avraham MengistuHow dare Israel not help bring Mengistu home to his family?

See? I told you the Israeli government is racist! They only care about the three white boys and Gilad Shalit, but don’t care about Mengistu because he’s black!


All of these were commentary on various articles posted about the crisis, which involved the captivity of 28 year-old Ethiopian Israeli Avraham Mengistu. Not surprisingly, the anti-Israel media has made every attempt to twist the story to suit its agenda: That Israel is a racist apartheid state. Or worse, that Israel also doesn’t care about its mentally ill. Unfortunately, Mengistu’s family has been feeding off this bad press and is chalking the situation up to racism.

The pro-Israel side is frozen in fear. I see very few speaking out about this admittedly very sensitive topic.

After all, the man was black (Ethiopian), Israeli, low-income, and mentally ill. A lot of Israelis are very afraid that drawing any more attention to this issue, will allow their haters to draw attention to the various libel that is making the rounds about Israel and its alleged treatment of Ethiopian Israelis (who are considered equal citizens under Israeli law, and are subject to no more racism than your average African American).

He’s also Jewish, a civilian, and never served in the IDF. By even the most anti-Israel of accounts, he’s completely innocent.

For documentation purposes, let me first lay out the facts.

September 8th, 2014: 28 year-old Ethiopian Jewish immigrant Avraham Mengistu, who lived in Ashkelon with his parents, crossed the border into Gaza by getting through a fence because he wanted to go back to Ethiopia. This was right after Hamas had their butts kicked in Operation Protective Edge, and were probably kind of bitter about it.

My first thought was, wow, he actually thought that was a good idea. Maybe Israel should just let Darwin’s natural selection run its course.

But then I learned he was mentally ill. Mental illness completely messes with your sense of reality and things that are terrible ideas magically become good ideas. So instead of “let Darwin do his work,” my opinion changed to, “What an unfortunate situation.”

This was his fourth time trying to sneak across the border into Gaza. The other three times he was returned to his family by the IDF who were actually doing their jobs and patrolling the borders. I think his family should have been more vigilant given this track record, but then again hindsight is 20/20.

His family has been lobbying to get the Israeli government to negotiate with Hamas for his release. I don’t blame them. He’s their son.

Israel worked tirelessly over the course of 5 years to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit. Why won’t they do that for Avraham Mengistu?

“Obviously they’re racist,” says everyone.

Comparing Mengistu and Shalit is like comparing apples and oranges. Shalit was a soldier sent by the IDF. The Israeli government, which put him in this situation, was therefore responsible for his safety and well-being. If something happened to him, the Israeli government must handle it because he was under their care. Conversely, Mengistu crossed the border on his own volition. He was not sent there to defend Israel. He was not sent there as part of mandatory military service, to risk his life for Israel. Neither the Israeli government nor the IDF had anything to do with him being there. They are therefore not responsible for his safety or wellbeing, and it is not their job to negotiate his release, especially since many of the 1000+ Palestinian prisoners who were released in exchange for Shalit ended up re-offending and killing more Israelis.

However tragic this may be, the consequences of releasing 1000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are terrorists, are almost guaranteed to be far worse.

My sympathy for the family diminishes considerably when I find out they played the race card and accused the Israeli government of racism. I understand it was probably to motivate (or scare) the Israeli government to act, but don’t we have enough of a PR nightmare on our plates?

When the Israeli government contacted Hamas, they claimed they found out he wasn’t a soldier. noticed he was mentally ill, and released him via the Rafah tunnels into Egypt. Because, world, look how humane they are! They only hate soldiers, not Jews or Israelis! Even though their covenant says they should kill all Jews! Even though not a single Jew is allowed to live in Gaza!

There was a gag order on this case that ended due to family pressure. I don’t blame the family for the pressure, but I don’t blame the Israeli government for wanting one less PR headache.

I am skeptical of Hamas’ argument. Jews are not allowed in Gaza, especially without a permit. On top of that, blacks are heavily discriminated against. Moreover, Hamas would be violating its covenant if it didn’t kill Mengistu or hold him for ransom (which would allow the money or released terrorists to go towards kill even more Jews). My hopes are not high that Hamas spared his life, as being black and Jewish is a double whammy for them, and the likelihood of them just releasing him into Gaza despite the fact that he entered illegally is very low.

Now let’s just shelve all that and assume Hamas did release him into Egypt via the tunnels. That is far from humane and probably the same thing as killing him. If a mentally ill person were to come over to you and say the voices are telling him to jump off a bridge, the last thing you would do is drive him to the nearest bridge, right? Anybody with common sense knows that. When a mentally ill person comes to you during an episode, you first tell him to take his pills, and if he doesn’t take his pills, you bring him to a treatment facility or hand him over to someone who will take him there. Enabling Mengistu, which Hamas allegedly did, shows complete lack of concern for his predicament, which is not surprising coming from Hamas.

But that’s not the only reason why releasing him into the Rafah tunnels is a bad idea.

First of all, they might as well have dumped him into a sewer. Because that’s essentially what they did.

Second, I would be surprised if Egyptian officials weren’t watching the tunnel openings on the other side. I’m also pretty certain that anybody escaping from Gaza into Egypt will be killed instantly if caught by the authorities, as the border between Gaza and Egypt is closed. The rumors that Gaza needs the tunnels for fuel for its only power plant are false, because it gets all its electricity from Israel, essentially free of charge. Egypt knows that, which is why it is taking steps to block the tunnels.

So if what Hamas said were true, there is nothing humane about the action they claim to have taken. They would have essentially released him into the wild, unleashing a mentally unstable man into the sewers to drown (worst case scenario) or to fend for himself in Egypt (best case scenario), where he doesn’t speak the language and where antisemitism is at nearly 100%, and is engrained into the country’s media and conspiracy theories. Racism against black people is also a huge problem in the country.

As we can see, neither of these options are in any way humane. If these actions were perpetrated by anyone but an enemy of the Jews, there would be an global outcry. People would call Hamas racist, ableist, and inhumane.

Any humane and responsible government would have done one of three things:

  1. Contact Mengistu’s parents.
  2. Contact Israeli border police and arrange to drop him off at the Israeli border with them.
  3. Contact the Ethiopian embassy or consulate and arrange to have him deported there. Hopefully the Ethiopian Embassy would contact his parents.

But of course, Jewish lives don’t matter to Hamas. Even civilian lives, civilians who didn’t serve in the IDF.

Let’s call that what it is: antisemitism, racism, or ableism. Either way, neither of these labels make Hamas look any good.

However you slice it, Hamas’ actions were inhumane and discriminatory. Whether antisemitic, racist, or ableist, Hamas should be condemned accordingly. We need to take this matter into our own hands and make this into a PR nightmare – for Hamas.

Let’s make some noise.



Lex is a trained comedy actor who is Montreal's second-favourite export aside from poutine.