Newly released IDF footage shows that Israeli soldiers tried to stop Avraham “Avera” Mengistu from crossing the border into Gaza, but one of those present at the time said the video given to the family by the army had been tampered with to edit out the soldiers.
Mengistu, a young Ethiopian-Israeli from Ashkelon who suffers from mental illness, has been missing for three-and-a-half years. It is thought that Hamas has held him in captivity since he scaled the border fence into the Palestinian enclave through Zikim Beach on September 7, 2014.
Officials had said that soldiers only arrived on the scene after Mengistu was already in Gaza, but footage aired Wednesday night on Keshet’s investigative journalism program Uvda showed otherwise.
Former Givati Brigade soldier Eran Shimoni, one of three soldiers who present at the time, related in an interview on the program how they shouted at Mengistu and fired warning shots to try to stop him from crossing the fence.
“It’s just a disgrace what they did to this video,” said Shimoni. “Why don’t you show us trying to stop him?”
Shimoni said he has many questions about the way the IDF responded to the incident.
At 1:32 p.m. on the day of the incident, the lookout gave its first report on strange movement of a man determinedly and quickly walking south while wearing a backpack and holding a stick, some 2 kilometers away from the border. Shimoni recounted that he had wanted to leave the post and approach Mengistu, but approval didn’t come until 10 minutes after the initial report. The three soldiers rushed to the area, arriving seven minutes later, when Mengistu was already close to the border.
Shimoni said he first feared the man might have been a Palestinian terrorist and that he was cautious about getting too close to him.
“I remember us shouting, very confused, we didn’t understand who this character is. He looked crazy... he was very unstable,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘What determination, something is not okay, something bad. I’m not going near.’”
However, after he fired shots in the air and toward the man’s feet, Shimoni understood from Mengistu’s behavior that he was not a terrorist. Seconds later, Mengistu discarded his backpack and climbed the fence.
Shimoni said he waited for someone to ask him questions after the incident, but nobody did. “Our job was to stop him – no question,” he asserted.
“The first time I saw the video I could not watch it,” said Tlayenesh Fenta, a relative and the head coordinator of the Committee for the Release of Avera Mengistu. “I waited while I was watching the video that we would already get to the part where they stop him, but it just didn’t happen.”
Mengistu’s family admitted him to a hospital for mental illness months before he wandered into Gaza. It was the death of his brother from sickness that destabilized him originally, his family says.
The IDF said in response to Uvda: “The main scenario for which combat soldiers are directed is to thwart infiltration attempts by terrorists into Israeli territory. There is an operational procedure in case of crossing into the Gaza Strip, which includes shooting in the air and calling out in an attempt to stop the person crossing. In this case, a military force arrived in a high-risk operational area – in the period following Operation Protective Edge – and activated the procedure within minutes.”