Human rights group slams Hamas for holding 2 Israelis

Human Rights Watch condemned Hamas for refusing to release two Israeli citizens, saying their captivity and isolation over several years is “cruel and indefensible.”

The International Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday condemned Hamas for continuing to hold two Israeli citizens captive, saying their detention and isolation for several years already is “cruel and indefensible.”

Avera (Avraham) Mengistu, a Jewish Israeli of Ethiopian descent, and Hisham al-Sayed, a Bedouin Israeli, entered the Gaza Strip on their own in 2014 and have not been heard from since. They are presumed to be held by Hamas, the Islamic terror group that rules Gaza.

A third Israeli citizen, Jumaa Abu Ghanima, appears to have crossed from Israel to Gaza in July 2016, but the circumstances surrounding his disappearance are unclear.

The two Israeli men reportedly suffer from mental health conditions and have histories of wandering far by foot, including across borders without authorization.

In media statements, Hamas authorities have indirectly acknowledged holding the two men, but say they will divulge nothing about them, not even to confirm their detention, until Israel frees a group of imprisoned Hamas terrorists.

Hamas authorities refer to the captive Israelis as soldiers, but HMW says they were not combatants, nor were they affiliated with the Israeli government when they entered Gaza.

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“Hamas’s refusal to confirm its apparent prolonged detention of men with mental health conditions and no connection to the hostilities is cruel and indefensible,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW. “No grievance or objective can justify holding people incommunicado and bartering over their fates.”

HRW, in their search for the missing Israelis, conducted numerous interviews with their families and friends as well as with Israeli and Palestinian officials, visited the men’s homes and neighborhoods, and reviewed official medical and military documents.

“Hamas authorities should officially and unconditionally disclose whether the men remain in their custody and release them unless they can provide a credible legal basis for continuing to hold them,” the international human rights body demanded. “Until they are released, Hamas should treat them humanely and allow them to communicate with their families.”

Hamas: ‘There are No Civilians in Israel’

Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar refused to acknowledge the detention of Mengistu and al-Sayed in a September 2016 meeting with HRW, adding, however, that “there are no civilians in Israel” – they all serve in the army, he claimed – and that “Israelis who enter Gaza are spies.”

“In light of indications… Hamas officials should officially and unconditionally disclose whether each of the men is, or was, in its custody and, if no longer in its custody, whether Hamas has information about his present whereabouts,” HRW said in a statement. “Revealing the identity of people in custody is an unconditional obligation under international law that cannot be contingent on the fulfillment of actions being demanded of another party. Their incommunicado detention, particularly given their mental health conditions, could amount to cruel or inhumane punishment or even torture.”

“A government’s refusal to officially acknowledge that a person has been detained or to reveal a person’s whereabouts or fate following detention or arrest, thereby placing the detainee outside the protection of the law, amounts to an enforced disappearance under international law. Enforced disappearance violates many of the rights guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the state of Palestine ratified in 2014, including the requirement to bring detainees promptly before a judge. Enforced disappearances leave detainees exceptionally vulnerable to torture and other abuse,” HRW stressed.

“There is nothing patriotic or heroic in forcibly disappearing them,” Whitson stated.

By: Aryeh Savir, World Israel News