CAMERA prompts Indy Arabia to admit Israelis held in Gaza are civilians

In recent months, Independent Arabia’s Gaza correspondent, ‘Izz ad-Deen Abu ‘Eisheh, finally began acknowledging that Avera Mengistu and Hisham as-Sayed, the two Israelis held prisoner by Hamas in the Strip, are civilians and not “soldiers”. This occurred following multiple communications between CAMERA Arabic and Independent Arabia, the latest of which was last December.

Thus, the next time – following that last communication – the correspondent mentioned Mengistu and as-Sayed by name, that following April, he referred to them as “civilians”, although he added a qualifier: “according to the Israeli version, which is confirmed by ‘Amnesty International’”. We spotted further improvement when his following report, from June 5th, correctly stated that the upcoming Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange would likely include:

“Returning the bodies of the two soldiers, Oron Sha’ul and Hadar Goldin, and releasing the two Israeli civilians Abraham Mengistu and Hisham as-Sayed”

Unfortunately, this new spirit of honesty did not last long. A subsequent report from last Wednesday, June 9th, included a far more ambivalent (if not outright self-contradictory) language:

“[Subheading:] Four soldiers

[…]

“Hamas keeps four Israelis in the Gaza Strip, among them the two soldiers Oron Sha’ul and Hadar Goldin […]. Israel claims they were killed, and ‘Amnesty International’ confirms this version. The Qassam battalions, meanwhile, did not disclose any information about them, but gave indications that the two are alive.

“As for the other two captives, they are Hisham as-Sayed, of Arab origins who carries an Israeli citizenship, and Avera Mengistu, a Jew of Ethiopian origins, who have entered Gaza by foot on two separate occasions in unclear circumstances. Israel and ‘Amnesty International’ say they are civilians, while their relatives report that they are soldiers who were discharged from the military.

Admittedly, even this backgrounder – riddled with falsehoods and manipulations – marks a considerable improvement compared to past reports by Abu ‘Eisheh, who in 2019-2020 would simply label Mengistu and as-Sayed as “soldiers” without further elaboration. Nevertheless, and especially in view of the subheading and last sentence quoted above, it bears mentioning once more:

  • Mengistu was not discharged from military service since he was never enlisted in the first place.
  • Mengistu’s relatives never claimed otherwise.
  • As-Sayed’s military service lasted less than three months, ending with his discharge in November 2008.
  • When as-Sayed wandered into the Gaza Strip in April 2015, he’d been a civilian for more than six years.
  • Consequently, both Mengistu and as-Sayed were clearly civilians when they entered Gaza.
  • Contrary to what the word “while” (فيما in Arabic) in the report above implies, all involved – Israel, Mengistu’s and as-Sayed’s relatives, and Amnesty International – are in full agreement about these enlisted facts. To wit, nobody contests that as-Sayed was a soldier for a short period, and everybody agrees that this is completely irrelevant for his current status as a mentally ill civilian in captivity.

It is these facts that Abu ‘Eisheh’s wording works so hard to disguise, in attempt to put the two kidnapped civilians together with the two fallen soldiers under the same erroneous “four soldiers” subheading. Once revealed, they expose his misleading backgrounder for the sham that it is, in service of the only party which does claim that Mengistu and as-Sayed are soldiers – Hamas.

Here is one final fact about Hamas:

  • In 2016, when Hamas high official Mahmoud az-Zahar rejected the argument that Hamas keeps mentally ill Israeli civilians as captives, he reasoned this with the claims that “there are no civilians in Israel” since all serve in the army, and that “Israelis who enter Gaza are spies”.
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