Hadarim Prison: Protesters rallied Monday in support of an Israeli who went missing after crossing into the Gaza Strip in a case that has highlighted concerns over alleged discrimination against Israel`s Ethiopian community.
The family of Avraham Mengistu, 28 and of Ethiopian descent, decided to take their campaign public to push for his release after having previously criticised the Israeli authorities over their response to his disappearance.
Israel`s Defence Ministry said after a gag order was lifted on the case last month that Mengistu had been held by Hamas after crossing illegally into Gaza in September, but further details on his whereabouts have not been made clear.
A couple dozen protesters gathered in front of a prison complex near Tel Aviv on Monday morning.
"We walked up to the (visiting) relatives of the Palestinian prisoners and asked them to send a message to Hamas to free Avraham," said Eliran Bareket, who is acting as a spokesman for the Mengistu family.
"We are very worried about Avraham. He needs to see a psychiatrist," he said, adding that he had been mentally unstable after the death of his older brother.
Local media had reported that Mengistu`s family was angered by the Israeli military`s reaction, alleging that more effort would have been put into finding him if he were white.
An adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also apologised after telling the man`s relatives that making the case "into a story about relations between the Ethiopian community and the state of Israel will leave him in Gaza for another year".
Members of Israel`s 135,000-strong ethnic Ethiopian community say they suffer from discrimination.
Several rallies to protest alleged police brutality and racism against the Ethiopian community have been held in recent months, some of which turned violent.
The family lives in the southern city of Ashkelon near the border with Gaza and Mengistu is believed to have illegally crossed the fence for unclear reasons to enter the Palestinian territory ruled by Islamist movement Hamas.
Israel does not allow its citizens to enter Gaza, partly over fears that they may be used as bargaining chips to demand concessions, including the release of prisoners.
In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for five years.