Two topics vie for top spot in domestic Israeli news. The first, Iran, has become more of a spectator sport for us, as Israel has been excluded from any involvement in the talks, despite our small nation having more at stake than all the P5+1 nations combined. The world led by U.S. President Obama will herald the agreement as “peace in our time” while Iran will laugh … all the way to the bank, counting the hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars that will quickly resuscitate their comatose economy. Attesting to the world’s indifference to Israel’s fate, Iran’s economic revival will prove a financial windfall for Hizbullah to the north in Lebanon/Syria and Hamas in Gaza. It stands to reason that if Iran, despite dire domestic economic concerns, was able to channel hundreds of millions of dollars to the proxy armies, imagine what the Ayatollahs will do when Iran is flush with the impending infusion of capital?
The other top topic is the somewhat sketchy story of two Israeli citizens reportedly being held by Hamas. Few facts have been shared with the public, as the government-imposed “gag order” was lifted last week, but the known facts are that Avera Mengistu, 28, an Ethiopian-born Jewish citizen of Israel with certain non-specified psychological issues crossed into the Gaza Strip despite Israeli soldiers ordering him to stop. The second, an unnamed Israeli Bedouin, entered Gaza more recently. Each entered alone and voluntarily and neither ever served in the Israel Defense Force. Israel fears Mengistu, who disappeared into Gaza 10 months ago, is dead. This assessment is based on conflicting claims by Hamas with different stories emanating from the terror organization. One has Mengistu dead, another has him freed, entering the Sinai to return to Ethiopia; the third, floated by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, has him a Hamas captive. These are the few known facts, save one: Each is a member of an Israeli minority that has been at the forefront of the national discourse on racism in Israel. It is this last fact that will greatly complicate matters.
Late this past April, an incriminating video was released of an Israeli cop severely beating Damas Pakada, a religious, Ethiopian soldier, leading to protests around the country. It also led to national soul-searching. The conclusion was that although there had been institutional neglect by the state, and much remains to be done to bring the Ethiopian community to national academic, social and economic standards, Israelis, by and large, view Ethiopian Jews no differently than they view other elements of this melting pot society.
When Attorney General Weinstein closed the investigation against the officer, new protests erupted. The soldier was found to have provoked the clash and the attorney general also cleared the officer of any racist motive for his actions.
There are activists in “Human Rights” and non-governmental organizations that would like nothing more than to foment protests and riots, decrying Israel as a racist apartheid regime that not only persecutes Arabs under its control but is guilty of systemic racism, proven by the acquittal of an abusive cop and the government’s indifference to the plight of a captive black-skinned Ethiopian citizen. They will argue, “Didn’t Israel exchange 1,027 terrorists for Gilad Shalit, a white IDF soldier?”
If, in fact, Mengistu is held by Hamas, that is not the only connection between him and Shalit. Hamas is predicating any information related to the missing Mengistu and the Bedouin on Israel releasing dozens of Hamas members freed in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner deal who were rearrested last June as Israel hunted for the three Israeli teens who had been kidnapped and murdered by a Hamas terror cell in Yehudah and Shomron.
Comparisons between the Shalit and Mengistu cases are facile but ultimately inaccurate and prove baseless the accusations that their respective races determine the government’s actions. Shalit, an active soldier, was abducted in an act of war by Hamas and held in their dungeon for five years. If not for a fabulously costly and successful public relations campaign engineered by the Shalit family, it is inconceivable that the government would have succumbed to Hamas extorting 1,027 terrorists in exchange for the lone Israeli soldier. All sectors of the nation empathized with the Shalit family because of Gilad’s status as a captured soldier, but roughly half the nation was against freeing terrorists in exchange for his redemption. The argument that the terrorists would revert to their former ways has been proven by the rearrest of 81 of those freed in the exchange and doubtless countless others as yet not caught. Numerous Israelis have been killed as a consequence of the released terrorists and the nation will not countenance another similar exchange. And that is the primary reason that Mengistu, if alive, remains in Hamas control. That, and the fact that he entered Gaza of his own accord.
Though the subjects may be black and white, decisions related to them are not always black and white.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst, and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two wonderful children. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.